Evolution of Solar Automobiles
Solar energy has been around since the eighties and has been a growing interest for many people. People who are trying to go green will usually give up on their electric bill and move to solar energy. It may be expensive initially to pay for, but in the end the investment will pay for itself. Solar energy has also evolved in the automobile industry beginning with solar cars in high schools and universities, with the future of mass public solar powered transportation on the horizon. In the following report, the history and future of solar cars for individuals and mass transportation will be explored.
The way solar energy works is quite simple. It turns the sun’s rays into electricity using an effect called the photovoltaic effect. The electricity powers a certain appliance, such as a motor, a light fixture, or an entire home. There are some solar panels that are so strong and efficient that there is no need for batteries. Instead of the electricity going from the array to the battery and to the appliance, it will go directly from the array to the appliance. If this were in a solar car, then the solar array would be directly connected to the motor (dasolar.com)
One distinguished solar car was created by the University of California Berkeley’s solar car team. California Dreamin’ was constructed between the summers of 1990 and 1993. The team raced in the Sunrayce after the completion of the car. In 1994, California Dreamin’ raced in the Disneyland World Clean Air Road Rally. Its final race was in 1995 when it ran in the Suzuka Solar Car Race in Japan. Then in 1995 to 1997 Cal Sol’s third car was constructed, Afterburner II. This car was the second generation of Afterburner Cal Sol had made. Afterburner had a brand new motor with outrageously good efficiency of 90%. Even though it was only an eight-horse power motor, with that efficiency, the driver was able to go full throttle for hours before the car started to slow down. Afterburner II raced at the FIA Electro – Solar Cup in Suzuka, Japan. It averaged fifty miles per hour and reached a top speed of seventy-four miles per hour. In 2005, Cal Sol completely reinvented the solar car with Beam Machine. This car featured a sleek smooth carbon fiber and fiberglass body and chassis. The car also featured an innovative battery protection system, which awarded the team with the Best Stock Array award. It was light and sleek, and quite maneuverable for its time. In 2005, Cal Sol placed second at the American Solar Car Challenge (Cal Sol Solar Team).
Another solar car team who has made a mark in history is the Purdue Team. They have made many different cars that have progressively gotten better as time goes on. Purdue’s 2011 car, Celeritas, which means swift or speed in Latin, was the correct term for this car because it flew down the road like a hot knife through butter. It featured an extremely smooth streamline design that allowed it to cut through air. Celeritas was Purdue’s first urban concept solar car released. Celeritas design was much like that of current production electric vehicles on the market. The car had many new features, such as regenerative braking and a plug-in charging capability. The car’s unveiling was covered by WFLI AM news in 2011. Its power output was also significantly altered from its predecessors, releasing approximately 600 watts. Celeritas’s successor was introduced in 2013. Navitas was the next generation solar car Purdue had showcased. Purdue really focused on overall efficiency for Navitas. They upgraded their motor, solar array, wheels, outer and inner frame and the batteries to attain maximum performance. With an equivalent efficiency of 2,630 mpg, it could not be compared with any car on the market. The captain of the team said, “There were major efficiency gains coming from the addition of carbon fiber wheels, and space – grade solar array, and solar concentrators to maximize energy collection” (Purdue Solar Team).
Many of the solar cars that have been made are by students in a University or engineering group. They will have a set goal: to plan for it, build it, test it, and race it. These are not cars that will be normally seen on the road to work. Heliatek, a German solar company, has been developing a car that has organic solar panels on it. Heliatek is not the first company to attempt mass production of solar vehicles. Audi announced that they would be working with a Chinese solar manufacturer to create a new charging concept for their new electric vehicles: solar cells integrated into the car’s glass. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, explained that this type of model is not sustainable for charging cars, but sustainable for charging car chargers. Like Heliatek, Audi does not plan to have the solar cells charge the whole car, but to power smaller features, such as the A/C, headlights, or the radio (Stumpf). They have recently made a big step forward with the efficiency of its organic solar cells. The main difference between the normal silicone panels and the organic counterpart is the overall efficiency. The base average for the silicone is around 15 percent, which would come from a low to mid-range solar panel. Organic solar cells were introduced a little more than ten years ago and were deemed to have a miserable efficiency of three percent. As of 2016, Heliatek’s efforts at making the cells more efficient paid off. In 2013 they reported a solar conversion efficiency of 12 percent. Finally, in 2014 they clocked the highest efficiency yet, 13.2 percent. Even though their end goal was 15 percent they were still greatly satisfied (Casey).