Solar Power Vehicles
Introduction

Solar power vehicles, according to Wikipedia, are electric vehicles powered entirely, or primarily by direct solar energy.

I suspect when most people think of them, they immediately think of solar power cars, but a solar car is only one of many different types of solar powered vehicles either currently available, or under active development in today's world.

I've already previously written about at least two types here on the site, and possibly three. However, they are not without their technological challenges and limitations, which we'll discuss later. In the mean time let's consider...

Surveying the Types

This electric car becomes a solar power vehicle if a solar array is used to power it. This picture was provided by Mariordo.
  1. Satellites
  2. Space Ships
  3. Airplanes
  4. Trucks
  5. Boats
  6. Cars
  7. Golf Carts
  8. Tricycles
  9. Bicycles

Some of these vehicles have greater advantages from using solar power than others, but all are either currently available, or currently being researched, and designed for future use.

Writing extensively about so many types of vehicles on one page would quickly turn it into a book, so instead, I'll dedicate future pages to different types of vehicles, so more specific and in depth information is available to you.

As the types of vehicles are covered, they will become links so you can easily find more facts and details when needed.

But here we'll briefly discuss their advantages and limitations, as which are most practical at the current time.

Advantages

This picture by Nasa of a solar powered plane, is another example of solar power vehicles that actually exist in today's world.

Probably the biggest advantage these vehicles have is energy independence. However, unless energy storage is also included, that independence is entirely dependent on the weather.

So most vehicles do include energy storage options, in the form of batteries, and many are actually hybrid systems powered by solar energy when available, and by fossil fuels, or some other energy source when solar energy is lacking.

Another major advantage is whenever the vehicle uses solar power it doesn't need to use another, less environmentally friendly, source of power.

Additionally, when using solar power, the vehicle would have little if any on-going operating costs, after the cost of the initial installation of solar technology.

Finally, any solar power vehicle should be far quieter to operate, allowing for a major decrease in noise, and the problems caused by noise pollution, in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Disadvantages

Hybrid solar electric trucks are also a type of solar power vehicles.
  1. Cost - Although solar energy is free, the technology to utilize it is still very expensive when compared to traditional energy sources. This is probably the biggest barrier to wide-spread use of these vehicles.
  2. Infrastructure - Since they usually receive their energy from solar generated electricity, unless the vehicle is traveling in bright daylight, it may need to supplement its energy from batteries, or some other form of electricity. Right now, most countries don't have needed charging stations to power vehicles any further than the distance provided by the battery's charge.

    My husband frequently traveled sixty to 100 miles on a daily basis when he was working. Probably close to half of the work force travels long distances on a regular basis as well.
  3. Reliability - Since the sun doesn't shine every day, with the exception of the space vehicles, they all need to have alternative power sources for times when solar power isn't available.

    Needing to have two energy sources also adds to the cost problem mentioned above.
  4. Technological capabilities- These are a disadvantage to solar power vehicles in two ways...

    To begin with, at the current time, we don't have PV panels that are efficient enough to completely power a typical vehicle completely.

    This is because there is only so much available surface area on any given vehicle. Once the vehicle's upper surface area is covered with panels, it is unable to generate any higher amounts of energy.

    One way to overcome this problem is by using free standing panels at night to recharge the vehicle's batteries, but that limits their range to the distance they can travel on one charge.

    Secondly, most PV panels are designed for fixed installations, so they are heavy, bulky, and rigid. To best accommodate solar power vehicles, light weight panels need to be developed whose reliability will not be compromised by vibration nor shocks.

    Some of the newer thin film technologies come to mind, but usually their efficiency ratings are much lower, so that would heighten the efficiency problem mentioned previously.

Having read the foregoing list of disadvantages, you may be thinking these vehicles are entirely impractical, and when cost is figured in, that is frequently the case if you are on any type of budget.

However, there are a few types I'd consider exceptions to that rule. I would consider them...

The Most Practical
Solar Power Vehicles

Solar Power Bicycles and  Tricycles, like this picture by Jeffrey, are some of the most practical solar power vehicles available today.

I found the most practical current vehicles to be a bicycle, tricycle, or a quadracycle. These are all variations on a bicycle theme that are built light weight with bicycle technology, and use typical pedal power whenever solar power isn't sufficient to power the vehicle.

Some may be powered with portable fold-able solar panels, but more frequently they will simply be charged through an electrical outlet with the solar panels in a fixed location.

Solar golf carts are also very practical solar power vehicles. This picture was taken by Linda Crismond.

The second most practical vehicles are solar golf carts. These vehicles may have solar panels mounted on the top, or they may simply used a fixed solar panel array like the solar powered bicycles.

A third very practical class of solar vehicles are solar power satellites or space craft. But I list them third because although they are highly practical, their direct usefulness to us as individuals, is still a long ways in the future.

Conclusions

I'm sure most people would love to be driving a solar vehicle, if it were cost effective, and available. But at this point in time, that is the problem. Very few are available to the general public, and of those that are, even fewer are cost effective.

The only exception to this would be different types of solar power bicycles, but they are only commercially available in parts of India and China, according to my research.

Consequently, it may be some time before you can have one of your own, unless you want to build it.

If that is the case, I'm sure you could find plans to do so, but I can't assure you of their cost effectiveness, even in that case.

However, if you've built a solar power vehicle, and know of reliable plans for doing so, please share with other readers here so they can benefit as well.

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