The light bulb idea for solar powered cars first showed up in the early 1970’s. While this idea for a solar powered car is entirely valid, the logistics of the vehicle itself are yet to meet the challenges of today’s commuter. The truth is, that as of our current day, solar powered cars are a ways off from being beneficial in the fight against global warming. Despite the dysfunction in the usability of the solar powered vehicle, the technology behind it has yielded some helpful knowledge for alternative power sources.
The primary challenge faced by the solar car is lack of sufficient energy to keep the car moving at speeds that are adequate to standard commuting. The solar arrays, or panels on top of the car that absorb sunlight, need to gather enough power to propel the vehicle into motion. This being the case, the car
itself does not have enough surface area to maintain sufficient enough energy to keep the car at steady speeds for long periods of time, let alone at high speeds. Solar technology is great for buildings and satellites because they have consistent exposure to the sun and can support batteries large enough to store extra power. These batteries are too big and heavy for the size of standard vehicles, thus most solar cars don’t have large enough solar arrays. Due to the smaller size of solar arrays, the cars need to practically always be in sunlight, which means that they power in tunnels or if parked in a garage.
Solar powered cars would be essentially useless on a cloudy day.
Solar power technology that is used for cars is often extremely expensive due to the smallness of parts.
Great precision is required to create car-sized solar arrays and the expense of manufacturing these parts drives the price of the car up, making the vehicle too expensive for most middle class citizens. If solar powered cars are to become mainstream and more widely available across different demographics, they need to be more affordable. New, cheaper ways of manufacturing the expensive technology need to be found and used before the solar car becomes a functional vehicle.
There is an upside too, however. Over the thirty or so y ears that solar technology has been explored, important information has been learned. Much of what has been learned has guided work elsewhere, outside the car market. The development of smaller, more efficient arrays has influenced the
development of technology for attaching solar panels to fuel operated vehicles as a way to increase efficiency. Giving up on the idea for one day having highly effective solar powered cars is not necessary; solar power just needs a bit more time to mature as a technology. There may well come a day in our future when solar powered cars are the primary mode of transportation.