The transition to an electric future is underway, with the electric car appeal catching on quite well. They are cheap to run, cut your emissions, and offer you a better driving experience.
One of the most asked questions on the “No Stupid Questions” section on Reddit and Quora is- do electric cars have solar panels, and why aren’t there solar panels on the roofs of electric vehicles. This article explores why electric cars don’t have solar panels on their roofs.
Solar Panels Are Heavy
An electric car needs to be lightweight to accelerate at the speeds they do. For example, the Tesla Model S can go from 0 to 60mph in 2.07 seconds. Installing solar panels will increase the energy needed to propel the car, making it harder for the car to accelerate at a high rate.
Even then, the car would burn through the additional power it gets from the solar energy to accelerate the car. Still, it would reduce the range of the vehicle due to the extra weight.
The amount of space on an electric car’s roof is insufficient to input the needed number of solar panels to power the car. Even if the entire surface of the vehicle is covered in solar panels, it will take days to fully charge the vehicle even if it’s standing in direct sunlight for most of the day, which many people are not willing to do.
A solar panel works by converting the sun’s energy into electric power. On average, a 1sq.ft solar panel can output 15watts of electric power under ideal circumstances. A typical electric vehicle only has 20 square feet of space to input solar panels. This means it would generate 300 watts of electric power in the right circumstances.
An EV battery capacity is between 18-kilowatt hours on small EVs and 100-kilowatt hours on long-range EVs like Tesla. A kilowatt is 1000 watts. The 1.3 kilowatt-hours from the panel can only charge 7.2% of the smaller kilowatt-hour battery or 1.3% of the bigger kilowatt-hour battery.
This would translate to approximately 1-3 miles of range per hour charged. For an electric vehicle that has 300 miles range, it would require 90 hours or more to charge the vehicle to full, and most people don’t even charge their vehicles to full.
In comparison, a 240-volt outlet that usually charges an EV adds 30 miles of range per hour charged. Most electric vehicles charge overnight for eight hours and will provide their mile range within such a short time of charging.
As such, the additional percentage of solar energy would not cover the costs of adding the panels.
Another reason why we don’t see solar panels on EV roofs is simply that they are ugly. Who would want to give up a panoramic glass roof and sunroof for solar panels? You wouldn’t trade the aesthetics for such a small increase in charge.
What’s more, it would require leaving your car in the sun for hours. Most people wouldn’t do that to their $100K car. It would age the interior much faster.
What Would Make Sense?
EV automakers like Tesla are investing in solar-powered charging stations to charge a series of batteries used to charge the electric vehicles. However, it takes over 10,000 sq. ft of space of a charging station to service 12 cars.
Do electric cars have solar panels?
It would not make sense on a cost-benefit approach. It would be implemented if the panels were light enough not to create drag. And, it would only help to extend the battery life, not to replace charging an EV by plugging. Or to power features such as AC – not anything significant.
Sam is Automole’s editor-in-chief and classic car enthusiast. Sam is studying mechanical engineering at Cockrell School of Engineering, Austin. He also writes for many top automotive publications and appears on the Collecting Cars Podcast.