One thing that you don’t hear about much anymore is the use of solar cells to power vehicles. Which is somewhat odd, given that the sun burns hydrogen, and hydrogen is the so-called “end-game” for automotive fuels. . . .
Certainly, photovoltaics have their limitations, especially when the sun goes behind a cloud or for several months running in places ranging from Alaska to Detroit (in winter).
But that said, there are also plenty of places where there is a considerable amount of sun for a considerable amount of time. Like Arizona, for instance.
Solar-powered cars came to mind because the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) announced that it set the Swedish fuel efficiency record during the Shell Eco Marathon with a solar-powered car, the Elba.
The Elba didn’t finish first but fifth.
Still, according to the KTH, the car set a record of 181.5 km/kWh. Translating that to MPGe, that’s 3,801.
Which is a heck of a distance by any measure.
The solar cells for the Elba were produced by a Swedish company, Midsummer (presumably that has something to do with the long summer days in Sweden), which produces production lines for making thin-film solar cells.
Speaking of the CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenium) cells, Alex Witt, Production Manager at Midsummer, said “The only possible solar solution that would integrate in Elba's aerodynamic shape was Midsummer's flexible thin film solar cells on stainless steel, which could easily follow the curved body of the vehicle without cracking. This solution would have been impossible with silicon solar cells as they crack easily.”
Chances are better than good that outside of things like Eco Challenge races we’re not going to see a whole lot of photovoltaic-powered cars, but it is a compelling thought.