When you combine the limitless energy from the sun, with ultra-efficient solar panels, batteries and decades of auto-making experience, cars may run forever without fuel. This is exactly what auto giant, Toyota Motor Corp., Sharp Corp. and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization of Japan, or NEDO is looking to achieve with the new Prius covered in high-efficiency solar cells.

“The solar car’s advantage is that — while it can’t drive for a long range — it’s really independent of charging facilities,” said Koji Makino, a project manager at Toyota.

Even if fully electric cars overtake petroleum-powered vehicles in sales, they still need to be plugged in, which means building a network of charging stations across the globe. The sun, on the other hand, shines everywhere for free, and when that energy is paired with enough battery capacity to propel automobiles at night, solar-powered cars could leapfrog all the new-energy technologies being developed, from plug-in hybrids to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, in one fell swoop.

This is all in theory as there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve that high level of efficiency in solar automotive technology. “This is not a technology we are going to see widely used in the next decades,” said Takeshi Miyao, an auto analyst at consultancy Carnorama. “It’s going to take a long time.” Other big automakers have launched solar cars but without an electric plug-in option, were very underpowered and limited in range.

Toyota has been testing a new solar-powered Prius since July, though it acknowledges that cars running nonstop without connecting to a hose or plug are still far away. Even so, the company said the research will pay off in other ways. Indeed, there have been some breakthroughs, mainly due to advancements by Sharp. The prototype’s solar panel converts sunlight at an efficiency level of more than 34 percent, compared with about 20 percent for current panels on the market. Because the solar cell being used by Toyota, Sharp and NEDO is only about 0.03 mm thick, it can be placed on more surfaces, including the curvy parts of the roof, hood and hatchback. The electrical system can charge the vehicle even when it’s on the move. If the car is driven four days a week for a maximum of 50 kilometers a day, there’s no need to plug into an outlet, NEDO’s Yamazaki said.

This car from every indication is designed for the sunny climes like Nigeria. For the majority of city dwellers, their car use is restricted to daily commute to work and short trips within the city, this can be efficiently handled by a conscious use of solar car. Due to unpredictable fuel prices, Nigerians have a lot to gain by adopting fuel-less transportation. Given the lack of electric car charging infrastructure in the country, it even becomes an easier choice over the electric plug-in and hybrid models making waves in the developed world.

Source: The Japan Times


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