Solar-powered electric car: Computerised power plant on wheels

Solar-powered electric car: Computerised power plant on wheels

An encouraging start

Solar vehicles are powered by the energy from the sun. They are equipped with photovoltaic cells that convert solar energy to electric energy which is then stored in the car’s battery.  The increasing adoption of the latest technology for automobiles and a growing awareness of climate change have increased the interest in solar vehicles. Solar cars benefit from range extension, helping to overcome the issue of rapid discharging when on the road. Range autonomy is one of the main obstacles for electric vehicles and extending the vehicle’s range helps relieve range anxiety.

Currently, there aren’t commercially available solar-powered electric vehicles. However, the global market is expected to reach ca. $4 billion by 2030. So far, only prototypes have been designed. The Dutch start-up Lightyear, for example, has revealed in June 2019 a prototype capable of driving long distances (725km WLTP[i]) powered only by solar energy and designed to be grid-independent. The production is scheduled to start this year. Some multinational car manufacturers are also trying to make their way into this new market. Hyundai has released a hybrid version with integrated solar panels to help charge its battery. The panels could provide enough power to propel the vehicle for 1,300km a year.  Tesla also unveiled the first car of the company – the Tesla Cybertruck – to offer solar panels as an option for extending the range. Elon Musk affirms that the solar panels will have the ability to add 24 km per day to the car’s range, which is non-negligible.

Sono Motors and the Sion: an inventive start-up leading the way

It all started in 2012 in a garage with no automotive expertise and money. Three years later, Laurin Hahn, Jona Christians and Navina Pernsteiner had built a solar vehicle prototype from scratch and in 2016, Sono Motors was founded. The German car manufacturer has now launched its solar-powered electric vehicle at the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (‘CES’), a big tech event for global innovators.

[i]  Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure laboratory test is used to check how new vehicles perform under everyday conditions.

Named “the Sion”, it is the first series-produced car that can charge its battery using solar energy. The car was born from a vision of mobility without CO2 emissions or gasoline. Beyond the 255km range, the Sion benefits from up to an additional 34km range per day, which almost encompasses the average use of a European driver (it has a maximum speed of 140km/h). With 248 solar cells integrated into its body, the Sion can charge its battery during daylight with the power of the sun, although range will vary depending on the weather conditions.

In a live presentation video, Thomas Hausch, Chief Operator Officer at Sono Motor explains that these solar cells “enable Sono Motors in the Sion to unlock the mass market. For that, they made the promise to be more affordable, more convenient and more accessible”. The car is priced at €26,000, making it price competitive for an EV.

Video Live presentation of the Sion:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhlHJ9FA7q0

We highlight two features (among a lot of good ones) we think make the Sion car really impressive:

  • A bi-directional charging system: In simple terms, bi-directional charging allows energy to be taken from the car battery and push it back to the power grid to help balance peaks in electricity demand. During off-peak times, the EV can then charge itself overnight. It makes the electric car a temporary energy reserve. The bidirectional charging system can be used to charge, store, and release electricity. Moreover, it allows this solar car to apply unused power stored in the battery to charge other devices or vehicles. More specifically, electronic devices and vehicles could be supplied with up to 11kW of solar power without any emissions emitted. It is a power station on wheels!

 

  • An App for ride pooling and car-sharing: Sono Motors created an app that offers a variety of services which goes beyond innovative mobility. Called the “Sono App”, it makes it possible to offer other users a ride. A fantastic way to combine innovative mobility with sustainability. The integrated car sharing function also enables the driver to share the Sion with other people. The Sono app can be used to decide for how long and with whom you’d like to share the Sion. The goal was to allow everyone to be able to benefit from the vehicle – including your wallet and, most importantly, the environment.

Every detail has been designed for sustainably. Sono Motors is also cutting production costs. By partnering with Swedish carmaker NEVS, it utilises an already existing production capacity. Indeed, the Swedish company ticks its boxes for high-quality production, 100% renewable energy, and high staff standards. The car’s battery has been built with reduced cobalt content to make it as sustainable as possible. Cobalt is a chemical element found in the Earth’s crust which is known for its bad environmental impact. Real Iceland moss is also included in the car’s air conditioning, filtering out 20% of fine particulate matter and ensuring natural humidity.

We are in great need for those kinds of sustainable innovations to help reverse our growing curve of CO2 emissions.  We will follow with great interest if solar-powered electric vehicle will become a prominent solution.  Cars will cease to be status symbols, hopefully demand for SUVs internal combustion engine cars with high fuel consumption will fast shift towards electric cars. We still have a preference for personal ownership over sharing. We need to redefine mobility and it needs to happen fast.

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[1]  Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure laboratory test is used to check how new vehicles perform under everyday conditions.

Author: Clementine Pons and Rina Cerrato
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