We previously wrote about an interesting project called the Lightyear One, a fully solar-powered electric car. The project just recently won the prestigious Climate Change Award at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
A Solar-Powered Car At Last?
We’ve heard plenty of rumors about solar-powered cars. They are the holy grail of the electric vehicle (EV) world, but as rare as unicorns. Still, the Dutch startup Lightyear is chasing after the elusive “car that charges itself” dream. According to the company, the solar-powered Lightyear One can drive for months on pure sunshine, supposedly having 400–800 km (250–500 miles) of range depending on circumstances and how you drive, of course.
The problem with current solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is that solar panels will give you a 30–33% efficiency in a best case scenario. That means less than a third of the sunlight it receives is used to move those electrons in the solar cells. Although there have been a lot of solar PV breakthroughs, they are mostly confined to laboratories. One such break was a tantalizing system that used an infrared layer below the solar cells to capture the heat of the sun. This boosted the efficiency of the PV to about 80%. Again, however, these tests are done in lab conditions and have not been applied to everyday use — and it’s not clear if they ever can be.