Le rêve de la recharge solaire

The dream of solar charging

Some start-ups, but also car giants, are starting to attach solar panels to their new electric cars, which promise a little more range but are not yet obvious.

Under the scorching sun of northern Spain, the “0”, the first production model from the start-up Lightyear, collects enough solar energy to travel more than 70 km a day for free. Its front hood and long roof are covered with five square meters of solar panels. Its founders, young Dutch engineers, won several solar-powered races in the Australian desert.

They take advantage of falling photovoltaic panel and battery prices and try to apply this technology to everyday cars. The very aerodynamic body of the “0” and its motors integrated into the wheels allow for lower energy consumption than the dominant electric SUVs and a range of 625 km on one charge. The brand promises that by driving little, we could only take it with us in winter. “The clock is ticking. We need to go sustainable as soon as possible,” stresses Lex Hoefsloot, one of the founders. Charging stations remain a major obstacle. If we don’t need it, we can scale much faster. »

Lightyear set the bar very high with this first model, which was built less than 1,000 times and has a Bentley price of 250,000 euros. An affordable version for around 30,000 euros has been announced for 2024-2025.

Toyota, Tesla and Mercedes

As the electric car market explodes, several models with solar panels are expected in the coming months. Toyota has already offered panels for its Prius Hybrid (optional) and for its first-ever 100% electric car, the BZ4X. Ditto for Tesla’s prototype pickup, planned for 2023. Mercedes has fitted the roof of its luxurious EQXX prototype with photovoltaic cells that promise 1,000 km of autonomy with the same slim profile as the Lightyear.

According to the American researcher Gregory Nemet, “photovoltaic modules have become so cheap that it is worth installing them even in areas with little sun”. “Even if a car roof can’t fully charge the battery in a day, it can still absorb enough energy to get you home from work,” says this energy specialist from the University of Wisconsin in the United States.

With a few hundred euros extra per car, solar energy could at least compensate for the use of air conditioning, according to Gautham Ram Chandra Mouli, a specialist in electromobility at the University of Delft in the Netherlands. However, be careful where you park, the expert warns: the car obviously only charges when it’s outside, and certainly not in winter. In addition, it charges much better near the equator than in northern Europe.

The sun is the future

Under the California sun, start-up Aptera has 25,000 pre-orders for its first model, a three-wheel, two-seat compact car slated for release later this year. Depending on the version, which costs between 26,000 and 46,000 dollars, it has a range of 400 to 1,600 km.

Another much more classic solar model, but also affordable and ambitious, is expected in Germany at the end of 2022: the Sion. This five-seat compact is cubic and all-black because it’s clad entirely in solar panels. “We have developed technology that covers the entire car,” explains Jona Christians, co-director of major German start-up Sono Motors.

With 18,000 registered pre-orders, 260,000 cars are to be produced by 2030. The Sion integrates the vehicle-to-grid system, which allows its charged battery to feed electricity back into the grid when the sun isn’t shining.

Another brand, this time Dutch, Squad Mobility wants to launch solar cars without a license in 2023. Their boss Robert Hoevers, a former Lightyear employee, sees the future of cars in the sun: “The panels are becoming even cheaper, more efficient electric motors. Sooner or later we will be driving on solar energy every day. »

Taimaz SZIRNIKS/AFP

Some start-ups, but also car giants are starting to install solar panels on their new electric cars, which promise a little more range but are not yet eye-catching. Under the scorching northern Spanish sun, the “0”. the first production model from the start-up Lightyear, generates enough solar energy to…


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