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Can solar be part of the fuel mix?

Can solar be a standalone fuel source?

On the eve of the international summit on climate change (aka COP22) in Marrakech our team principal, Steven Heape, spoke with the producer’s of Channel 5’s Formula E programme to look at how the fuel could be brought into the mix.

As well as a need to reduce CO2, the NO2 and particulates produced by diesels are having a serious effect on the health of those living in cities. A whole host of cities – Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens – are planning to ban diesels from 2025 and we need to find another way to do this.

Electric is obviously going to be part of the solution. But in cities, where there is most need and journey distances are short, there is also a lack of charge points. Solar could provide a significant proportion of the top up.

Adding solar power to existing cars

We recently undertook analysis of the effect of adding solar to existing cars – looking at adding solar panels to the roof of a Renault Zoe (a typical small electric car). And in London (and the UK rarely cited as being a sun-baked nation) we would see about 1,500 miles per year from solar, with no mods to the design or way the car is engineered. That’s about a fifth of the annual national average travelled by each vehicle (7,900 miles).  For many in cities, this represents nearly half of the annual consumption.

And that’s before you adjust the design to improve aerodynamics, drop the weight, add cells to, for example, the bonnet, and so on. And before you look at the next generation of cells, with recently published research on graphene-based cells suggesting these could potentially doubled (or better) the conversion efficiency / range.

This is one of the reasons why the organisers of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge launched the Cruiser (4 seater) Class race two races ago – to encourage the use of such technologies by production vehicle R&D departments. And one of the reasons we’ll be racing the 3,022 km event in October.

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