Why Aren’t There Solar Panels On My Hybrid?

I’ve read a few articles recently that talk about how great plug-in hybrid cars will be. I can understand why adding electricity from a green source to your car would be a good thing, but I’m a little confused though when I read something like this:

Perhaps in the future, automobile manufacturers could even incorporate solar panels into the roofs of hybrids to provide constant battery charging, which some concept hybrids have already done. Until then, home-owners, solar-roofed parking structures, and portable solar panels could still offer consumers new possibilities and very futuristic accessories.

It seems odd to me that installing solar panels on a car’s roof isn’t easier and quicker to implement than putting together all of the infrastructure for a plug-in car (not to mention that even if you had that infrastructure people would still need to take the step of plugging in their cars all of the time, but a car with solar panels would power itself up without any extra help).

There seem to be some DIY solutions for adding solar panels to a hybrid car. I looked around and found a product from Solatec, although the product page says that their solar kit is temporarily unavailable. Maybe they’ve just sold out or maybe they stopped selling them since it might not work that well? I’d be curious to find out more if anyone is familiar with this.

Update: I just read an article in the New York Times about flexible and semitransparent solar cells that are in development. It mentions that “automotive companies [are] interested in the new cells for car roofs”, although it doesn’t offer any more information about why they are interested or how the cells would be used.

14 thoughts on “Why Aren’t There Solar Panels On My Hybrid?

  1. I like the idea of solar power generation done by the car. It eliminates some transmission inefficiencies but there is one main drawback. Cost. Since todays solar is about 15% efficient the surface area of the top of your car can supply only enough energy to drive several miles a day depending on the specific vehicle.
    The Aptera electric car which begins production late this year has a solar strip on its roof but the main goal of this energy is to keep the interior temperature of the vehicle comfortable. Some power though, may be sent to the battery.

    As solar prices come down over the next few years I expect to see more solar energy production incorporated into cars.

  2. The last post hit the point directly: surface area required.
    Today’s solar panel efficiency is only 15% and there is no economically feasible breakthrough in the near future for getting more energy out of the same size panel (NASA can do it for $1M a square meter!). Therefore, you need a residential sized solar array for your commuter vehicle! (assume an 80mile round trip capability).

    If you live in a good solar resource area -mountain states to southwest – you need around 3kW for daily charging which is somewhere around $20k. If your solar resource region is less (pacific northwest, northeast) you need more kW. So assume you need to size of you home solar system. The problem there is that there is only so much roof space on most homes and the orientation is seldom ideal.

    The solution is not same car / different fuel, rather lighter cars (you don’t need 3 empty seats). The whole scenario improves dramatically if you run around in a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (25mph), take public transit, or simply car pool. The best thing to do is for businesses to fund solar parking structures where you charge you car during day light hours at work. But the basic fundamentals remain: conservation by traveling less and more people moves per mile driven.

    We must avoid the perspective of ‘oil independence’ with e-cars which expand the ‘long tail pipe’ — that electricity comes from somewhere and we sure don’t want it to be coal!!!

  3. On Interstate highways and other limited-access highways where pedestrian access is not allowed, would it be possible to provide electric power on our most densely traveled sections of road. Back when we were kids, there were toy slot car tracks. Could this same idea be applied to our roads (at least in long tunnels and other dry areas)?

  4. There just isn’t enough energy from the sun reaching a car to do more than run some accessories and trickle charge the accessory battery (supposedly this will be an option on the 2010 Prius). Do the “Insolation” math, or just look at the pictures in “solar vehicle” on Wikipedia. Or, check out panels. Two of my rooftop solar panels are bigger than a car roof, and in full perpendicular sunlight they generate all of 340 W… or 1/2 horsepower!

    Solar panels are expensive, so you want to maximize their generation to offset the cost. So it’s much better bang for the buck to put them on your roof facing south than on your car. When and if solar PV costs little more than covering a surface with metal or glass, then everything changes.

  5. I just want to reiterate what chuck said: there is not enough room on top of a car for the currently mass-produced panels to provide sufficient power for a typical hybrid. As such, adding PVs to your hybrid will be more of a gimmick than a useful addition. It’s also important to look at aerodynamics — for the commute you’re doing, are you losing more power via interrupted air flow than you’re gaining?

    In short, it’s much more feasible to build immobile solar and wind collectors and charge your car’s batteries with a cable before you start your drive.

  6. Think of all the money and natural resources we could save with the home powered solar systems. Plus it would be great to have a credit at our local electric company every month. Wouldn’t it be great to have the solar powered car?

  7. Interesting information on solar power, hey, have you amanged to install any solar panel on your hibrid? if you have, that must be really cool. can you post a picture on your blog?

  8. I hope one day will have portable solar power.
    For the time beeing DIY solar panels for home use is becoming very popular. I acctuly did it at home – it was easy and YES – I have free elctricity.
    I have wrote about it in my web site .

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