Solar panels and electric cars seem to go hand and hand—they’re both better for the environment and it seems like solar panel technology would supplement all of the electric cars on the market today. So, do Teslas have solar panels then?
Currently, Teslas do not have solar panels on their roofs. Although Elon Musk has claimed their inefficiency, we may see them incorporated in the coming years.
Over the years, Tesla’s CEO has reportedly spoken out against using solar panels on electric cars. However, other electric car manufacturers have remained more optimistic.
Not only are solar panel-covered cars being developed by manufacturers like Toyota, but solar panel roofs are being used by other manufacturers to supplement auxiliary power needs. Tesla themselves might actually be closer than we think to roll out a Tesla with solar panels.
This is a very exciting space and sure to continue evolving over the coming years. Stay tuned.
Imagine simply leaving your electric car out in the sun to charge. That sounds like an EV owner’s dream, but it appears that there are a lot of kinks that need to be worked out before we’ll see roads filled with solar panelled electric cars. Mr. Electric Car himself (Elon Musk) has gone back and forth with the idea of solar panels on his Tesla cars.
Back in 2017, Tesla CEO Elon Musk reduced the idea of solar panels on cars to mere fantasy. While at the National Governors Association meeting, Musk reported that, in fact, putting them on the car itself would be the least efficient way to use solar panels.
Musk went on to argue that there’s minimal surface area on the roof of the car. Combined with the fact that most cars spend a lot of time parked in parking garages, he said that pursuing the design wouldn’t even be worth it.
When more in favor of the idea of solar panels back in 2016, Musk shared some of his solar panel solutions via Twitter (where else?).
With surface area a big problem for Tesla cars, Musk suggested that the only possible solution would be a “deployable solar shield like a retractable hard top.” This would come out from the trunk, much like a convertible, and could unroll an array of solar cells. It would add an estimated 20 to 30 miles of additional range per day.
It turns out that the additional mileage might be an overestimation, too. Another EV name, the Karma Revero, was one of the first to release a solar roof option at around the same time as Musk’s comments.
However, it disappointingly was only able to convert just 15-20% of the solar energy into drive power. How far could the Rovero drive after eight hours charging in the sunlight? Just 1.5 miles.
It’s safe to say that Elon Musk was right about solar panel roofs on cars—at that time, anyway. It’s been several years since Musk’s ideas of a deployable solar shield—and we may be closer than we think to be able to charge an EV in the sun.
That’s Not Stopping Everyone
Initial barriers to putting solar panels on cars included two main things: efficiency and cost. From an efficiency standpoint, the power generated by the relatively small surface area covered by solar panels would only be enough to travel a couple of miles. That amount of electricity just wouldn’t be worth it—especially when it comes to the cost of the panels and the effort required to install them.
However, this certainly doesn’t mean that no one is trying. Let’s take a look at some of the automotive companies which are pursuing solar panels.
Toyota has rivalled Tesla in the world of electric cars. Where the Roadster emerged as the luxury electric vehicle of choice, the Toyota Prius emerged as a hybrid option for the average Joe. Unlike Tesla, however, Toyota has already experimented with adding solar panel roof features.
In 2015, the Toyota Prius featured a solar panel roof addition that never claimed to help the car get from A to B, but did help to power the cars’ ventilation system. But things have changed in the past couple of years, and now Toyota has partnered with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and Sharp to work on manufacturing a solar-powered car that could “run forever.”
Though only in the first stages of testing and development, the technology would mean that a car could charge itself—even while driving. Eventually, if the car were driven about 30 miles a day, four days a week, it wouldn’t need to be charged via plug. Not only that, but the solar cells used are very thin, meaning that they wouldn’t just go on the roof. They’re adaptable enough to be attached to curved areas like the hood and the hatchback, too.
Toyota’s solar battery rating is much more impressive than what we’ve seen in the past—an impressive 34% efficiency rating. This could eventually mean an additional 20-29 miles of driving added each day thanks to the solar energy.
We’re admittedly still a long way off from seeing a car like this on the road. However, this is definitely a step in the right direction, towards electric cars that can be charged while driving down the road.
Another exciting solar-powered innovation comes from Hyundai, and their announcement of the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that will feature a solar panel roof. Hyundai is well aware that the amount of solar energy delivered to the car isn’t much—but they’re still optimistic about the addition of the roof solar panels.
Hyundai engineers feel that this is a wise use of the Sonata’s roof top surface area and are fuelled (pun intended) by the idea that any power generated can help support auxiliary power needs. Their solar roof panels may not be able to contribute to extra mileage (just yet), but they can help with features like lights and air-conditioning.
If the solar panels were used optimally and charged at least six hours a day, they could eventually get to the point where they’d add up to 800 additional miles of driving power a year. This will obviously depend on the car’s access to full sun—meaning that shaded city driving and parking garage use would significantly minimize this potential.
This new vehicle by Hyundai will be available to North American drivers later this year. The addition of the solar panels will cost less than a few thousand dollars and, while certainly not for everyone, will most likely be an attractive purchase to those who choose electric cars for the “feel-good” factor.
How about the Tesla Cybertruck?
While it’s no deployable sci-fi solar array, Musk’s company has been considering another type of Tesla vehicle solar panel. Once again spreading the news to the Twitter world, Musk reported that fold-out solar wings on the Tesla Cybertruck could generate an additional 30 to 40 miles per day.
The Cybertruck pickup truck will provide versatility in terms of the options for owners. A few different accessories are in the works, including a camper configuration. Perhaps the fold-out features could incorporate these solar wings? Stay tuned to Elon Musk’s Twitter to stay up to date on what’s to come for the company and their use of solar panels.
Watch This Space
So, while Teslas currently don’t have solar panels, this might change. We won’t be able to fully power an EV with solar panels on its roof just yet, but we are making significant and important improvements. From an environmental standpoint, any reduction in the amount of energy that is sourced from the grid (and sometimes coal-power) is a worthy improvement. With technological advancements being made all of the time, perhaps one day we will simply be able to charge our car during a joyride in the summer sunshine.