How Sono, Aptera and Lightyear are making solar-powered electric vehicles a reality
The world’s first commercial solar electric vehicles will hit the US and European markets within the next few years. german company PA EnginesSouthern California-based Aptera Motors and Dutch company Lightyear all produce electric vehicles with built-in solar panels, which can harness the sun’s power to provide around 15 to 45 extra miles on clear days.
These vehicles are also fitted with ordinary lithium batteries which can be charged using mains electricity. So for longer journeys, these cars essentially operate like a standard electric vehicle. But for commuters and other short-distance drivers, the majority of their miles could be powered almost entirely by the sun, for free.
Dan Kammen, a UC Berkeley energy professor, said he expects this technology to make good financial sense for many consumers.
“Solar panels are so inexpensive and integrating them into skins is so easy that once you get past that initial learning curve, those initial few thousand vehicles, it’s hard for me to imagine that it wouldn’t won’t be profitable,” Kammen said.
Cars come to market
The Sono Sion, slated to begin production in Europe in mid-2023, starts at just $25,000. Its battery has a range of 190 miles, and although the car also has 465 half-solar cells built into the exterior, the boxy five-seater sedan looks unassuming and practical.
“So this car gives you 5,700 miles a year for free, you know, no cost, because it comes from the sun. That’s about 15 miles a day, which is perfect for commuters,” said the co-CEO of Sono Motors. and co-founder Laurin Hahn. He said when the Sion hits the US market, it will be an ideal second vehicle.
The Sono Sion is expected to begin production in Europe in mid-2023. The company says there are already 42,000 reservations for the vehicle.
In terms of appearance, Aptera’s vehicle is the opposite of Sono’s. Aptera’s zippy three-wheeler seats two, has in-wheel motors for greater efficiency, and is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. It is expected to begin production in the United States next year.
“When you start with aerodynamics as the basis of your vehicle, you end up with something that looks very different from everything else on the road. I mean, our vehicle looks more like a bird or a fish than a almost everything else on the road today,” said Chris Anthony, CEO of Aptera.
Production of Aptera Motors’ solar electric two-seater is expected to begin next year in Carlsbad, California. The company says there are 37,000 pre-orders for the vehicle.
Depending on the lineup and other optional features, the Aptera costs between $26,000 and $48,000. Because it’s so light, Aptera’s top-of-the-line model has a lithium-ion battery with a range of 1,000 miles. Its base model has a range of 250 miles, ahead of the solar-powered 30 or so miles that Anthony said you’ll get on an average day in Southern California.
Then there’s the Lightyear 0, which is expected to hit European roads by the end of this year. Like Aptera, the Lightyear has in-wheel motors and was designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind. But while the vehicle’s body is sleek, the Lightyear seats five and looks much more like a typical car. Its lithium-ion battery gets 390 miles per charge, averaging around 20 more miles from solar power, up to nearly 45 miles.
The Lightyear 0 is expected to hit European roads by the end of this year. A general public vehicle, the Lightyear 2, is expected in 2025.
“A lot of the reasons people don’t switch to electric vehicles are charging and range, and they’re not on the same level as a combustion car today,” said Lightyear CEO Lex Hoefsloot. . He said the company was targeting customers who wouldn’t normally consider buying an electric vehicle. “So we’re going to a level where you actually have to refuel less than you would have to refuel when you had the combustion car.”
The Lightyear 0 will cost $250,000, but Hoefsloot said that’s because the initial model was a limited release. When production ramps up and the Lightyear 2 hits the market in 2025, Hoefsloot said, it will cost $30,000.
The future of solar electric cars
It may be a while before we start to see other automakers incorporate solar power into their electric vehicles, because simply sticking solar panels on many larger and heavier vehicles might not provide enough power to justify even the smallest additional cost.
“Manufacturers these days have taken the kind of lazy man approach to building electric cars, where if they want more range, they put in a bigger battery,” Hoefsloot said. more and more manufacturers are starting to realize that the bigger battery will always be very expensive in the future. So efficiency is really the way to increase that range without having to pay for a big battery.”
Because high-end solar panels are only about 22% efficient, and the small surface area of these cars limits the number of panels they can have, these first generation solar electric cars will not support commuting. long distance. But as technologies such as solar glass, which can turn windows into solar panels, improve, Kammen sees a future where traveling 80 or 100 miles on solar power alone is a possibility.
“It really fits into this idea that by electrifying transport, we’re not going to actually stress the network,” he said. “More vehicles themselves can be more and more autonomous. And in the end, I think we will sell the electricity from our solar cars back into the grid.”
Watch the video to learn more about the companies making solar cars a reality.