Imagine owning a car that you can drive around for ever, without thinking about filling gas in it! Science fiction? Not really. A car company in Netherlands, called Lightyear, is developing a car that is powered by solar energy, which means you keep driving with the benevolence of the Sun God!
So if you live in a sunny city like Hawai, the car could go up to 20,000 KM without ever plugging in. In Amsterdam, 10,000 KM a year is possible. Imagine in a country like India, where we have the sun 300 days in a year – the highest in any of the G20 countries, how much it will benefit us! You are wondering what happens during the monsoon in Cochin or Mumbai, when you don’t see the sun at all for a couple of days. Here is a standby feature – the cars will also be able to recharge using household current and a standard 3.7 kW charger.
So why are electric cars important? More than 14% of world greenhouse gas emissions is from passenger and freight transportation. Less than 13% of the energy in a liter of fuel is used to actually move a typical car, with more than 60% of the energy that goes into an internal combustion engine lost in the form of heat. This is a lot of carbon into the atmosphere from vehicles. It is all this carbon, along with others from burning of fossil fuels that causes climate change resulting in extreme climate events.
Lightyear has covered the surface of its cars with solar cells and uses advanced aerodynamics together with using light weighting techniques. With all this, they claim that their cars will be able to drive 400 to 800 KM on a full battery charge. Many manufacturers are going down this route of embedding solar panels on the roofs of the cars. Panasonic has created a new solar roof for the Japanese version of the Toyota Prius Prime, with the company claiming that it’s new setup can generate up to 180 watts. Toyota claims that the solar roof can provide the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid with around 3.7 miles of range a day when parked outside. Last year, Tesla launched the Model S with a glass roof, instead of the standard sun roof, seen as a pre-cursor to Tesla embedding this glass with solar panels, something that Elon Musk has now confirmed.
Last year we saw proof of concept of an electric helicopter, when Martine Rothblatt, founder of Sirius satellite radio and vehicle navigation company GeoStar, flew an electric helicopter at 400 feet for five minutes at speeds of 80 knots. Earlier last year, Solar Impulse, a zero fuel aircraft flew 40,000 KM’s, proving to the world that it is possible to build a solar powered aircraft that can actually fly around the world. So if you can fly around the world using solar, why not drive a car using solar exclusively!
When it comes to cars, running out of charge is the fear that most potential car owners have, making charging infrastructure one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of mass adoption of electric cars. The mission of Lightyear is to develop, manufacture and sell solar-powered cars that will accelerate the electric car revolution by eliminating this one hurdle. The company claims only 3% of people in the world live within 100 KM of a public charging station.
In Bangalore, I counted just 16 charging points from the Reva Electric car website – Reva being the only choice we have in the country as of now. The Reva car claims a driving range of 140 KM on a full charge. No wonder we do not see many Reva cars on the streets, with every driver fearing his car running out of charge.
Lightyear is still in the concept phase, and the company hopes to build 10 cars by 2019. Early adopters can reserve one today with a deposit of €19,000. Cost of the completed cars is said to be €119,000.
While the Lightyear idea makes a lot of sense as a concept, it now needs to prove itself as a commercially viable product, and this may take some time. While our wait will certainly not be lightyears away, we are all still patient enough to wait, as we love electric cars!