Why Don't Electric Cars Have Solar Panels

We’ve always wondered why EV manufacturers don’t love solar panels as much as homeowners. 

After all, solar panels create clean, off-grid energy, surely that’s more efficient both on costs and emissions for the manufacturers.

Apparently not. 

Let’s find out the reasons behind why don’t electric cars have solar panels.

Why Most Electric Vehicles Don't Have Solar Panels

The reason most electric cars don’t have a solar panel on them is that the surface area isn’t large enough to make it worthwhile. The surface area on cars would only allow the car’s solar panels to capture a small amount of energy. 

Therefore, it wouldn’t be cost-effective to go down this route as the panels would in theory not pay themselves back or generate more clean energy than was used to build them in the first place.

As technology improves and develops were sure this idea will as well. There are numerous companies worldwide looking at making whole body panels on cars out of solar panels so that enough energy is created.

At the minute, solar panels as a whole are generally between 15-45% efficient which means out of all the light they receive, that is the percentage that will be turned into energy. Due to the low numbers, car manufacturers are not interested, this would have to be a lot higher for them to even consider it.

Examples of Cars That Charge With Solar

Below are examples of cars that benefit from solar panels:

Sono Sion 

Boasting 248 solar cells, the Sono Sion can add 20 miles of range per day when the weather is clear skies and beaming sun. On an average day, you’d be looking at more like 10 miles of range per day.

From the solar panels, the range boost is anywhere between 150 -185 miles roughly and will cost around £21,300.

The solar panels will definitely reduce bills but won’t be enough to power the EV by itself, so you will still need to plug it in and charge.

Lightyear One

This solar electric car consists of 5 square meters of solar panels and the cars themselves have a range of about 450 miles. It’s not a cheap car though, and you’re looking north of £100,000 for vehicle’s such as this one. 

In the future, the aim is for electric vehicles with solar to be less expensive and a lot higher in terms of production. At the minute it’s just not worth the time or money for manufacturers, so they continue building a hybrid or other EV’s.

Toyota Prius Plug-in

Cars such as the Toyota Prius plug-in are a small step into hopefully developing solar cars. The Toyota Prius has a small solar panel on the roof that will charge the car when it’s parked and also generate electricity when the cars on the move, this helps power functions in cars such as air conditioning and a sat-nav.

If you wanted to fully charge the battery using the solar panel, you would need to park in 10 days of sunshine straight. Living in the UK, you could expect about 400 miles of charge per year, so as you can see it’s just not worth it.

Will We Get More Solar Panel Roofs In The Future

One of the main reasons solar panels aren’t as efficient as everyone would like is because semiconductors only turn a small fraction of the light they get into energy. 

The ideal scenario is for solar panels to become extremely efficient, converting at least 80%+ of the sunlight they receive into energy. This would mean you wouldn’t have to cover as much surface area with solar panels, the full roof may be able to just have a solar panel because now they convert sunlight into energy a lot more.

At the moment, solar-powered cars are still a long way off but who knows in the future we may get there. With some of the best companies in the world spending millions on research and development, it wouldn’t surprise us if in the future with the advancements in technology, we may have fully powered cars through solar panels.

If you want to read more guides for EVs, then head back to our main page where we answer a whole range of questions.

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Nick is the proud owner of a MG ZS EV and is an EV fanatic. He has been featured in notable publications like USA Today and The Times for his expertise in the field.