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The Future of Solar Energy – Futuristic Solar Cars

written by: Haresh Khemani•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 8/28/2008

Solar energy is being considered for a number of applications. One of the areas in which solar energy is going to make major impact in future is the automobiles. In the next five years or so we may see the solar cars running entirely on solar energy, a form of renewable energy sources.

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    Introduction

    At present the solar energy equipments are being used for limited number of applications such as solar water heater, solar cooker, solar lanterns etc. With the fossil fuels depleting at the fast rate, the cost of the petroleum increasing every other day and the air getting polluted by these fuels, greater need has been felt to explore the possibility of using the alternative energy sources like solar energy. Solar energy is called a renewable energy source because it is an unending source of energy and available freely.

    In future we can expect the solar technologies becoming cheaper leading to the greater use of the solar equipments. Let us see the areas in which we can expect the major changes in the use of solar energy in the coming years and present challenges.

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    The Concept of Solar Cars

    One of the most ambitious projects of the mankind is running the cars on solar energy. First of all let us see how solar energy can be used to run the car. The photovoltaic (PV) cells mounted at the top of car absorb solar energy and convert it into electricity. The photovoltaic cells are made up of various layers of silicon slices. This electricity is used to charge the battery which runs the motor, which in turn runs the car.

    Presently a number of prototypes of the solar cars have been developed and many of them are running successfully. Most of the prototypes have shapes and sizes different from the traditional cars. They have sort of aerodynamic shape so as to reduce the external opposing forces and smaller size of engine so that the electricity produced by even small photovoltaic cells is sufficient. Some of the traditional cars like Toyota Prius are also being trialed for running entirely or partially on solar energy.

    Solar technology is also being researched for using in hybrid cars in which engine and motor is used to generate power. The motor is powered by the battery. In traditional hybrid cars the battery is charged by the engine itself. In solar hybrid cars, the battery is charged by the solar energy via photovoltaic cell. This is an additional power for the vehicle without any cost.

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    Challenges and Prospects for Solar Car

    1) At present the major challenge with utilizing the solar energy is the high cost of the PV cells. However, in future as the use of the PV cells for various applications increase, cost of manufacturing technology for PV cells is sure to come down. This will promote greater use of the PV cells and continuous sliding down of the prices. The solar car will become affordable cost wise in the next five years or so.

    2) Another major challenge is the number of PV layers required for producing sufficient amount of electricity to drive the car. Again with advancements in the technology the silicon chips can be developed that are able to produce more electricity in from smaller area.

    3) Then another challenge with solar cars is that PV cells will generate electricity only during daytime. To overcome this problem the PV cells can be designed to collect maximum solar energy so it fulfills all day and night requirements of the car.

    When these things happen the solar cars will bring major changes in the shapes and sizes of the car. The scene of the airplane like looking cars running swiftly on the roads will become common. It will be just like airplane running on the roads. The sitting posture in such cars will be similar to the pilot sitting in the fighter plane. And when this happens who knows one day this car will start flying too!