An Introduction to Solar Cars
Solar cars are actually electric cars that use photovoltaic cells to convert solar energy into electricity. In this category of vehicles, the energy is stored in the solar battery and then used to start the engine. If one day these cars enter the market on a large scale, they will certainly be very effective in reducing air pollution and removing annoying sounds.
Currently, almost all projects related to solar cars are in the early stages and the production samples are considered as prototypes. To pass this stage, car manufacturers are following the idea of solar hybrid cars. In solar hybrid cars, part of the energy required to charge the battery or operate various systems is provided through the panels installed on the roof. According to forecasts, the market value of solar cars will reach 689 billion dollars by 2027
Despite the numerous advantages, solar cars face major obstacles in terms of design and technology. In order to harness the maximum possible energy, the body of these cars should be covered with solar panels as much as possible, while even if the entire body is covered, the amount of energy received will be negligible. This is why the solar cars built up to this date have only competed in car races and are still unable to match everyday applications.
How do solar cars work?
Solar panels allow photons to excite electrons. The vibrancy resulting from this work is the basis of the production of electricity. Structurally, these panels consist of a large number of photovoltaic cells that are connected together.
In a simple definition, any photovoltaic cell can be described as a sandwich of two pieces that have some type of semiconductor material, such as silicon. The existing silicon is combined with other materials – usually phosphorus and boron – to give each piece a positive or negative electrical charge. With such a structure, an electric field is created at the junction of two layers.
When photons collide with electrons, the electric field directs the electrons away from the silicon junction. The metal conductive plates on the sides of the cells collect these electrons and transfer them to the wires. At this moment, electrons flow like other sources of electricity.
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Advantages of solar car
Solar cars have several advantages, the most important of which are:
They are economical because they do not depend on fuel
They are sustainable and environmentally friendly
They reduce noise pollution and polluting gasses to zero
No extra cost except for changing the car battery
Applications of solar energy in vehicles
Imagine being able to use it without having to fill up your vehicle’s fuel tank. Considering the high fuel costs and environmental hazards, it is considered a sweet dream. One of the options that can make this dream come true in the not too distant future is solar energy.
In fact, fully solar powered vehicles are nothing new; The world’s first solar car was built in the 1950s. This model was not very practical, but modern designs have made significant improvements.
Today, solar milestones can be imagined and observed in various sectors of transportation. Solar cars, solar buses, solar trains, solar boats and even solar helicopters are some of the current examples.
Obstacles to the mass production of solar cars
There are several main reasons why the world’s most advanced car manufacturers have not yet gone to solar cars. The low efficiency of current solar panels is one of the main reasons. Currently, these panels have an efficiency of between 20 and 30% in the best case, and if a car is supposed to move solely by relying on sunlight, a much wider space must be provided for installing the panels. This, in turn, leads to the two problems of weight and cost.
Solar panels are expensive and have a certain weight. Equipping the entire body surface of a car with these panels will mean adding weight and cost. You might say that to deal with the weight problem, new films that are much lighter can be used instead of panels. In response, it should be said that these films are less efficient and store less energy. Considering the weight of the battery, which is usually high, it seems that the idea of solar cars is not feasible in the real world, at least at the moment.
Another issue is that on a sunny day, each square meter of the earth’s surface receives approximately 1 kilowatt of solar energy. A simple calculation shows that if all the surfaces of the car body are covered with the best panels and exposed to sunlight all day long, the energy needed to travel only 40 kilometers will be stored in it. Of course, this is the most ideal condition, because in addition to not controlling all the received energy, other factors such as weather changes, driving conditions, the place of installation of the panels and their getting dirty can reduce the mentioned number.
Despite the presence of some inhibiting factors, realizing the idea of solar cars is not impossible. Currently, a lot of research is being done in the field of reducing the weight of batteries and using highly optimized photovoltaic cells. Maybe the researchers’ efforts will one day be used in the form of really practical solar cars.