Solar Powered Cars

Are solar energy powered cars viable?

With gas prices continuing to spiral out of control, the viability of alternative fuels and energy sources is making more and more sense to consumers. While hybrid vehicles do offer superior fuel efficiency and reduce toxic emissions, they still create harmful exhaust and rely on gasoline, making them a sort of stop-gap measure until cleaner technologies gain a stronger foothold. Solar-powered cars offer an interesting alternative to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

Solar-energy-powered cars have been in development since the 1970s, during the days when gas prices were rocketing skyward at an alarming rate. There have always been questions about their viability and practicality, but thanks to technological improvements, solar-energy-powered cars have once again garnered a lot of positive attention.

How Solar Powered Cars Work

To build a solar car, a network of photovoltaic cells or PVCs is needed. These cells capture light and turn it into electricity, which can be used to power the motor directly or to power a battery that is used to run the engine. Newer models also have reserve batteries which are kept fully charged so that the car can be used even when the weather is cloudy.

The cost of photovoltaic cells varies significantly; the more one costs, the more efficient it is. Thus, top-of-the-line solar-powered cars are still fairly expensive, but costs are expected to come down in the years to come as technology continues to improve.

More Automotive Alternatives to Consider

Currently, solar-powered cars are subject to some significant limitations. Most models are designed to carry one or, at most, two passengers. Their frames are very minimal and light and don't offer much in the way of crash protection, a necessary design feature because the solar panels they use to convert sunlight to fuel don't create enough energy to propel a heavier or more expansive vehicle. Also, because they act like a sunshine magnet, their interiors can get very hot.

Solar-powered hybrid cars overcome some of these limitations. They operate on a combination of solar power and gasoline, drawing on the sun's resources when available and supplementing with conventional fuel. Hydrogen-powered cars and battery-powered cars are also on the horizon, as they are also benefitting from technological advances that make them more practical and affordable.

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