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Utilities Will Be Able to Take a Load off Thanks to Solar EVs

image credit: Electrek
Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with...

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  • Dec 17, 2021
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In a recent Energy Central article, I discussed how EVs can reduce power utility load by acting as a battery that collects and stores energy from the owner’s home during off-peak times, and provides that stored energy back to the home for use during peak periods, enabling utilities to offload some demand. The process of EVs sending power to the home is known as vehicle to grid or V2G and, as the name implies, it can also be set up to send power directly to the grid, giving utilities even more support during peak load times.  

These developments are highly useful for helping utilities to reduce load. But there is another EV innovation that can help even more. Solar EVs require little to no use of the grid yet can still contribute energy to it.

What Is a Solar EV?

A solar EV is just what it sounds like, a vehicle with PV cells within solar panels installed on it, capable of converting sunlight into electricity that fuels the car’s battery or motor. Solar power may be used to provide all or part of the energy needed to run the vehicle.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

The primary benefit is that solar EVs can be charged in situations in which charging infrastructure is scarce, such as in less developed countries. Even in places where infrastructure is more evolved, solar EVs are the perfect solution for multifamily unit dwellers with no garage or other place to plug their EVs into. Another benefit is that, as mentioned above, a solar EV can provide energy to homes or directly to the grid.

The primary challenge of solar EVs — as with solar systems deployed on structures and on land — is that the technology only works when the sun shines. So, these vehicles are more suited to sunny locations. Another challenge is that, as with traditional EVs, the distance the car can travel on one charge (known as range) is limited. However, the range could be hundreds of miles, making these vehicles practical for everyday use.

What Does the Market Look Like?

Currently, there are no solar EVs on the market, but several auto manufacturers have them in the works:

  • Aptera. The company claims the initial model will be able to travel up to 1,000 miles on a single charge.
  • Faraday Future. The company is currently taking orders for its forthcoming FF 91.  
  • Hyundai. The Sonata is considered a hybrid model with solar panels mounted on its rooftop.
  • Lightyear. The company claims its Lightyear One will consume two to three times less energy than other electric vehicles.  
  • Sono Motors. The forthcoming Sion can be charged via sunlight or other methods, including another Sion.

Solar charging stations are also being developed, which can further reduce the overall reliance on utility power. The market for all these innovations is expected to grow considerably in the coming years, alongside the traditional EV market.

What are your thoughts on solar EVs? Please share in the comments.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 18, 2021

Karen, unfortunately the energy in sunlight is too diffuse to power a car. Yes, there have been a few prototype solar cars, that carry one driver, that can accelerate slowly to a top speed of ~30mph, on a flat road, while the sun is shining, at noon. But no one who needs a car that can drive at freeway speeds, for hundreds of miles, that can start and stop in traffic, would ever buy one.
 

I had a wattmeter installed in my electric car that showed exactly how much power the car was consuming. If I floored the accelerator from a standing stop, it would peak briefly at a consumption of 1 megawatt - one million joules of energy per second. To deliver that kind of power you would need to carry 6,700 square meters of solar panels on your roof - a square 81 meters on each side - at noon, on a sunny day. And it would still go nowhere -  it would weigh too much!
 

Suffice to say, powering an electric car with solar panels is impossible - it's not even close. Cars with solar panels on top are for people who want impress their friends (and have no electrical engineers for friends).

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Dec 22, 2021

Thanks for your thoughts, Bob. I'm in the initial stages of developing a market report about solar EVs for Guidehouse. It will be interesting to see what my research turns up. 

Benoit Marcoux's picture
Benoit Marcoux on Jan 12, 2022

I don’t see how solar EVs can work in a meaningful way.

With, say, 3 square meters of solar panels, peak power will be around 300 W at Noon on a sunny day. Annual generation will be 360 kWh to 450 kW, assuming the equivalent of 1200 to 1500 hours of generation, which is typical for well situated solar panels. I would expect that EVs, with horizontal panels and possibly shaded by trees and houses, will generate much less.

An EV driven 16,000 km (10,000 miles) needs around 3200 kWh at 20 kWh/100 km. 

This means that the solar panels may cover 10% to 15% of the energy needs of an EV, and this is a best case not including the inefficiency of the added weight of the panels.

Sorry Karen, solar EVs are a false good idea. 

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Feb 9, 2022

Thanks for your comment, Benoit. While solar EVs do have a limited use case, I respectfully disagree that they are a false good idea. According to my research for Guidehouse Insights, they are a good idea in certain scenarios. As Bob noted, they aren't going to work well for people who need to drive "at freeway speeds, for hundreds of miles." But they can work just fine for people who don't need to drive long distances each day, which is a large percentage of drivers.

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