Recently, we considered the question of will solar panels work at night. (Spoiler alert: for the most part, no.) It turns out the question of rooftop solar panels at night is a relatively simple one. But unlike rooftop solar panels, solar cars can certainly work at night.
To help us understand how solar cars work at night, we’ll first address the question at its most basic level and then look at some examples. Let’s get to it.
How Solar Cars Work At Night
If you know anything about electric vehicles (EVs), you probably know a couple of basic facts about them:
- EVs are charged using electricity instead of burning gasoline
- EVs use battery packs to store electricity
Can you see where this is going? The simple answer to our question is, indeed, battery packs. Although it is possible for solar cars to run without the help of a battery pack, most models do have a battery pack on board.
Thus, as long as you charge the car while there is sunlight, you will have no issue driving it around at night.
In addition, solar cars don’t necessarily charge using solar panels alone. Some of these vehicles are much the same as your typical electric vehicle, but they also add solar panels on the roof. Those solar panels can give you some passive charge while you are driving or if the car is sitting outdoors on a sunny day.
However, if you want to use the car at night, many of them can also use EV charging stations at night just like any other EV could.
Solar Car vs Electric Car
As you may have seen above, there generally isn’t a difference between solar cars and electric cars. The easiest way to think of a solar car is an electric vehicle with solar panels added on. Usually, the solar panels sit on the roof of the car.
However, the solar panels aren’t the only thing that powers these vehicles. They usually have battery packs as well, must like other EVs. And you can charge them like an EV, too.
So, solar cars are essentially electric cars with solar panels added on.
Solar Car Examples
Currently, there are no solar cars that are widely available. These cars are currently prototypes but will be widely available in the next few years. Some are even ramping up enough production to produce millions of vehicles.
Let’s take a look at a few of them.
The Lightyear One is described as a “long range solar electric vehicle designed to be grid independent.” Thanks to its aerodynamic design and solar roof, it uses much less energy than other EVs. The vehicle comes equipped with a 60 kWh battery pack and has a 725 km (450 mi) WLTP estimated range.
WLTP range estimates tend to be very optimistic; still, the stats are impressive. Lightyear also estimates that the solar roof will add 7,000 to 20,000 km of range per year (4,349 to 12,427) on their own. If the latter estimate is anywhere near realistic, you may be able to do most of your driving without even having to plug in.
The downside? Well, the car certainly won’t be cheap. Only 946 of them will be made for a price of €150.000 ($179,487 USD). That being said, you can still reserve a Lightyear One on the company’s website.
The Fisker Ocean is “the world’s most sustainable vehicle” and will be affordable for millions of people. The car starts at $37,499 and will start deliveries to a few people in late 2021 before becoming more widely available in 2022.
The car gets its name from an initiative the company has taken. Instead of using 100% virgin plastic, they are using recycled plastic that has washed up on ocean shores. They will use it to make several of the parts on the interior of the vehicle.
The car will have a range of 300 miles and, of course, an optional solar roof. In this video with Fisker CEO Henrik Fisker, he talks more about the vehicle and of its cool features.
The Aptera EV is another interesting little vehicle (emphasis on little). The car only seats two people, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to like about it. Aptera says the car has up to 1,000 miles of range; plus, it doesn’t need charging for “most daily use.”
In other words, the solar roof can do most of its charging for you. At just 1,800 pounds, the fact that the car is so small and light is what allows it to achieve this. Less weight means less energy consumption.
For comparison, the Chevy Bolt EV weighs 3,563 pounds–just about double the weight. And the Bolt is by no means a large vehicle, especially by American vehicle standards.
Also, the Aptera’s interior looks nice–it doesn’t look especially cramped. Overall, this is an interesting vehicle that could change the way we think about cars.
Stella Solar Car
The Stella is a very interesting solar car. There is actually a whole family of Stella vehicles and they all have extremely aerodynamic designs. They are more proof-of-concept vehicles than anything meant for mass production, but I still wanted to mention them. Why? Because they are just very cool.
And even if the Stella vehicles themselves are not mass-produced, who’s to say that something similar couldn’t be in the future? The vehicles were designed by Dutch Solar Team Eindhoven, a team of 20 students from Eindhoven University of Technology.
The car was originally developed in 2013 and can get up to 650 km (403 mi) on a sunny day.
The Momentum is another concept car, but I still want to mention it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this car was created long before the current EV revolution. Designed in 2005 by University of Michigan students, it was ahead of its time.
No, it wasn’t the first solar car ever (that honor goes to the 1955 Sunmobile). Still, the car has a fantastically aerodynamic design and really showed the potential for solar cars. That’s especially true since it was created almost 16 years ago.
I would say it helped solar cars gain “momentum,” but in reality, it would take several years for these cars to really pick up steam. Or, I guess, sun.
The Bottom Line on Solar Cars
As we have seen in this article, solar cars can certainly work at night. But there is no magic here; they do so using battery packs. Indeed, solar panels on cars are no different than rooftop solar panels; they need sunlight to produce power.
Nevertheless, these vehicles are compelling. They can charge themselves while parked or even while moving. Some solar cars, such as the Lightyear One and the Aptera EV, should be able to do most of their driving without ever being plugged in.
Of course, both of these cars will be tough sells for many people. The Lightyear One costs over $150,000, and the Aptera EV only seats two people. Still, these cars stand to make us re-think the way we view cars.
After all, who wouldn’t want to drive a car that never has to stop for gas? Keep going and let the sun do its thing.