How Does a Solar Electric Car Work

October 31, 2012

In a contemporary world, a solar electric car is considered one of the best friends of the future. Using the sun for power, a solar car is environmentally and budget friendly. Among all known alternatives to conventional vehicle fuel, solar cars stand alone. They are also more practical, given their smaller size and safer since their speed is limited to hardly 40 km/h for now. Solar cars basically work on the batteries or motor if the car is designed that way.

Step 1 – Understanding the Solar Principle

Like all solar-fueled devices, solar cars use energy that comes from the sun. Direct exposure to sunlight doesn’t move cars or other devices that can use this energy, so the converter of sun rays into usable power is needed. When it comes to solar cars, specially designed batteries serve as converters. Solar energy also needs to be stored since sun is not always available. Silicon-based photovoltaic cells are still most common solar collector and storage space where, due to electron movements and interactions, accumulated sunlight moves electrons around. These movements and interactions of electrons trigger electrical current or energy that eventually runs the car.

Step 2 - Solar Panel

Solar panels are actually “boards” that collect the sun’s rays, and host the whole process of transforming energy coming from the sun into electricity and power. Placing the solar panels on the car allows you to direct solar power to the motor or you can store it in a battery, depending on the car make and design. Known a century ago as home water heaters, then going through some periods of oblivion, solar panels experience today their re-birth one more time, thanks to growing popularity of solar powered electric cars. Solar panels basically wrap the whole system of solar principle, since they work as long as electrons freely flow around. They are still a little costly, but you can definitely find affordable ones, if you wish to turn your car to a solar electric car.

Step 3 – Using Photovoltaic Power

As already said, silicon-based photovoltaic cells are the most common collector of the sun’s rays. Those cells make solar panels that convert the sun’s energy into one form of usable energy. New models of solar panels are capable of transforming about 22% of accumulated sunlight into electricity that solar cars use (future promises more but we still have to see it). Newly created usable energy, or photovoltaic power now goes to batteries that keep the electricity in tact until it is needed. It’s important to know that thousands of photovoltaic cells are needed to transform sun energy into electricity needed to operate a car.

Step 4 – Car Components

Photovoltaic array is the basic component in a car running on solar energy. Generated and produced electrical energy goes to the motor when you turn the key on. When the motor is off, a battery keeps solar power as chemical energy. The majority of solar cars have small motors (nothing like conventional motors), and there is no need to shift gears since the electronic motor does it itself. Other basic components are the already mentioned battery that collects solar energy, motor balancer, power tracker and data system, which monitor and check the electricity inside the whole system. But don’t be surprised to see some other, or customized components in solar cars that aficionados like to make on their own. 

Extra Tip – The Solar Car Design

Big cars and SUV’s have been gradually losing their battle with smaller and easier-to-maneuver cars, not only because of the fuel price, but also because of eco-awareness. That trend works well for solar cars that tend to be smaller and lighter from their inception. Until recently, solar powered electric cars used solar panels to operate, but today individual solar cells are more popular, since they significantly contribute to lighter car frames.

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