Harnessing the Sun: The Reality of Solar-Powered Cars and the World Solar Challenge

by AutoExpert   |  24 May, 2024

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Ever look up at the sun and think, "Wouldn't it be great to be able to could power my car with that!"  Great question! Well, good news is that solar-power cars exist and they even participate in amazing races in Australia - the World Solar Challenge.

They do look as if they came back from the future and here is why solar-powered cars aren't yet cruising our normal streets.

Solar-Powered Cars

Sunshine might seem like a free-flowing energy source, but it gets a little dimmer by the time it reaches Earth.  Think about it – the amount of sunlight hitting your car is only enough to power a regular fridge, and that's considering a whole year's worth!  Even a big car just doesn't have enough surface area to be a solar powerhouse.  Those giant solar farms you see use tons of panels spread out over acres, or even special mirrors to focus the sun's rays.  A car just doesn't have that kind of space.

Solar-Powered Cars

Another hurdle is that solar panels themselves aren't perfect at turning sunshine into car juice. They're like mini energy converters, but they only capture about 20% of the sun's rays.  So, even if you covered your car in panels, you wouldn't get close to enough power to keep it cruising down the highway.  Electric cars need a whopping 20 times more juice than a car covered in solar panels could ever dream of generating!

Solar-Powered Cars

The solar cars you see racing are built for one thing: soaking up the sun like nobody's business.  They're basically giant, streamlined machines with barely any windows or space for friends (a little awkward for carpool!).  Not exactly ideal for your daily errands.

Solar-Powered Cars

Plus, sunshine isn't always reliable. Places near the equator get a ton, while Alaska has to deal with long stretches of darkness.  Even rainy days or the Earth's tilt can affect how much solar energy a car could collect.  And forget about driving at night!  A solar car would need a giant battery to store all that extra daytime sunshine, which makes the car heavier.  And heavier cars need more power to run...it's a bit of a catch-22.

Solar-Powered Cars

But don't worry, gearheads!  Scientists are working hard on making solar cars more practical for everyday use.  This means developing better solar panels that grab more sunlight, designing panels that fit cars better, and making the whole system more affordable.

Solar-Powered Cars

For now, the closest thing we have to a solar car is an electric vehicle (EV) that you plug in at home or a charging station.  The electricity powering these cars can sometimes come from solar panels, wind turbines, or other clean sources.  So, even if you're not cruising in a sunshine-powered machine, you might already be using some solar power on your next road trip!

 

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