A new factory in the Dutch city of Helmond recently unveiled their plans to begin building prototypes for a new electric car that charges through solar cells on its roof.
The startup responsible for these innovative vehicles, called Lightyear, plans to have the cars hit the European market in 2020. The cars will come to the US the next year. The company’s CEO, Lex Hoefsloot, points out that although the car also includes a traditional charger, “you don’t need charging points anymore.”
The main issue surrounding electric cars is that there isn’t much infrastructure to support electric vehicles, so these cars generally aren’t very popular. And because few people are interested in electric cars, creating infrastructure isn’t a priority. This creates a very circular problem. The new cars from Lightyear, however, bypass the problem because they don’t require any infrastructure.
Hoefsloot started working on the concept of these electric cars as a student at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In 2013, he worked with a team to develop a car for the World Solar Challenge. Their car won that year, and again in 2015. Their model was able to drive nearly 1,000 miles on a single charge. The team worked hard to make their car better from year to year. The solar cells of the first car were only 22% efficient, but two years later they were able to develop one that was 24% efficient, which was a 10% increase in energy yield.
The participating engineers realized the commercial potential of their project, and launched a startup after they graduated. They found help in a variety of investors, and individuals with experience in the car industry who helped them turn their idea into a reality.
The car doesn’t work by directly using the sunlight on the roof’s solar cells. The sun charges the car’s battery, which stores any energy that isn’t being used. The company has yet to reveal the car’s complete design, but they say the body is much lighter than the one on most cars. The electric car is also extremely aerodynamic, to the extent that it uses cameras instead of side mirrors. The car also features an air suspension system that can adjust the height of the car to minimize drag. The cars are expected to have a range of nearly 500 miles per charge.
According to Hoefsloot, the future of electric cars includes both solar-charging models and models that are charged traditionally. He hopes that his model will be an example to others of a car that is lightweight and efficient, with minimal upkeep and a small carbon footprint. Perhaps soon solar-powered electric cars will be the standard everywhere!