To most, upon glimpsing a true solar powered car they will be strongly reminded of the children’s TV series ‘The Jetsons’. After all, most solar powered cars are oddly shaped – sometimes even flying saucer-esque – and are covered in little mirrors and panels to suck energy from the sun. These cars look odd, but they do exist. In fact, in the Australian Outback (which benefits from glaring sun rays) a car powered purely by the sun was about to reach speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour.
Not particularly impressive given the world’s fastest combustion engine car, the Bugatti Veyron, can reach 250mph – but not bad. The effect that solar powered cars have on the environment is virtually nil, and while the shape and design are still somewhat bizarre, that is something that can be tampered with over time. So, does the future see us starting the solar panels on our cars rather than the engine?
Well, not quite. While 80mph may seem pretty good, the cost of getting to that speed was extortionate – well out of the reach of most household budgets. The other flaw is the design; solar panels on solar powered cars need to cover a large area atop the car to function, which leads to designs including wide wings and flat roofs. Not aesthetically pleasing, and not practical either.
The problem is momentum; rather than just generating steam like traditional panels, the solar panels on cars are trying to create enough force to move a stationary object. While there is a chance in the future someone will see a way around this problem, for now, solar powered cars remain the playthings of scientists – not the new family vehicle.