Component News March 25, 2020
The Mass Adoption of Solar in Electric Vehicles – 5 min. read

The Mass Adoption of Solar in Electric Vehicles – 5 min. read

The explosive adoption of electric vehicles may be paving the way for EVs powered by solar bodywork.

  • Hyundai recently released its first Sonata hybrid electric vehicle with roof solar panels.
  • Toyota is testing high-efficiency solar in the hopes of generating an extra 20–29 miles of range.
  • Lightyear unveils its solar electric car with 450 miles of range.

Imagine for a moment, an electric vehicle that is powered entirely by solar energy.  Considering the recent explosive growth in sustainable energy systems in the automotive industry, the idea of solar-powered cars is becoming more and more of a reality.  Raghu Das, CEO of market research firm IDTechEx, believes that it won’t be long before electric vehicle owners never have to plug in again.  According to reports, automakers are preparing to invest around $225 billion over the next few years to develop new electric vehicles.  Market watchers believe that a large portion of these investments will be directed towards new technologies, and many agree that the implementation of solar charging will be a primary focus.

How does a solar electric vehicle work?

Solar EVs would be built on the same platform as battery powered EVs, with only a few minor tweaks.  Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells (PVC) that convert energy from sunlight into electricity.  PVCs contain semiconductors, typically made of silicon, that absorb the sunlight.  Photons from the sunlight strike the semiconductors and excite the electrons, producing an electron flow that creates an electric current in the process.  This electrical current then powers the electric motor that propels the vehicle.  The new vehicles would likely also use the same battery system, and only require the solar panels and a solar charge controller.  They would also be able to store some solar energy and can also run smoothly at night or in the absence of direct sunlight.

Implementing solar cells in electric vehicles isn’t a new concept though.
  • General Motors showcased the “Sunmobile”, a 15” long solar powered model car, at the GM Powerama show in Chicago on August 31st, 1955.  The car was powered by 12 selenium photovoltaic cells and a small Pooley electric motor.  The electric motor would turn a pulley to rotate the real wheel shaft.  While the model was too small to drive, it is considered to be the first solar powered vehicle.
  • The 2020 Hyundai Sonata features a solar roof that helps recharge the hybrid Sonata’s battery pack.  The Korean manufacturer claims that, given 6 hours of charging per day, the panels are capable of charging 30% – 60% of the battery.
  • The 2018 Karma Revero features a 200w solar roof that provides supplemental power for its battery pack.  Apart from its remarkable style and features, the 403 hp that its hybrid powertrain produces makes it a true “solar powered hybrid sports car”.
  • A Dutch startup called “Lightyear” recently unveiled their solar powered concept, the “Lightyear One”.  The roof and hood of the vehicle are comprised of 5 square meters of integrated solar cells.  This mass of solar cells will be encased in safety glass that the company says is so strong that a grown man could walk on them.  The light-weight construction of the vehicle will enable a range of around 450 miles.  The car also features 60 kW fast charging that allows it to charge up to 77% of its battery capacity in an hour, on top the additional solar charging.

What will the solar vehicle market look like in 5 years?

Transparency Market Research, a market intelligence company in New York, predicts that the global solar powered car market will expand at a CAGR of 20% between 2020 and 2027.  According to MarketWatch, an American financial information website, the solar vehicle market would be segmented by hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles (BEV), and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.  The BEV market is expected to showcase the considerable growth due to the easy integration of solar panels to charge the battery.  Additionally, the photovoltaic technology will reduce charging time and support market expansion.

Other industries are set to benefit from the adoption of solar vehicles.  The demand for solar panels would increase dramatically, driving market expansion.  The most considerable growth is expected in the Monocrystalline panels segment, as opposed to the Polycrystalline segment.  This can be attributed to the compact size and increased efficiency in Monocrystalline panels.  The battery industry would also see growth, especially in the case of lithium-ion batteries.  Additionally, advancements in battery technologies along with a focus on electric vehicles are positively influencing the market demand.

The European region is expected to hold a prominent share of the solar vehicle market.  This can be attributed largely in part to their rising demand for zero-emission cars.  Also, because many key automotive manufacturers as well as solar powered car manufacturers are positioned across Europe.

How will this impact the electronic components industry?

The rise in demand for solar panel arrays and related technology will inevitably spike the demand of electronic components.  The following segments are expected to see the most significant rise in demand and possibly shortages:

  • Silicon carbide semiconductors
  • Resistors
  • Inverters

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