Generally speaking, I don’t think solar-powered cars are very practical. They are fun and do highlight how far we’ve come. They may help to advance certain electric car technologies and designs. However, except for certain niche situations (like a hospital car for rural Zimbabwe), they have serious limitations.
For one, solar panels aren’t cheap — risking their destruction or damage in a car accident doesn’t seem wise. Secondly, the sun doesn’t shine 24/7. To maximize the power you can get out of an electric car + solar panel system, it’s generally best to put the solar panels somewhere that’s never shaded by anything but the clouds or an eclipse (i.e., not on top of a car) and then charge up the electric car when it’s parked nearby (which is likely to be for many hours a day).
So, I was a little surprised to stumble across this story about a city car prototype that is only powered by solar power. The car is apparently being developed by 6 European companies, and it has been awarded €2.8 million in funding. Tehran Times writes:
The vehicle, which weighs less than 600kg, is designed specifically to meet the needs of city travelers in sunny south-European regions, and has a maximum speed of 100km/h and a range of 20km.
The “vehicle’s performance met our expectations for the design. It showed very high stability on small radius curves and had an average energy consumption of around 80 Watt-hours per kilometer,” said Pietro Perlo, CEO of Interactive Fully Electrical Vehicles (IFEVS), who has coordinated the project. The vehicle has been tested last month at Fiat’s testing track in Turin.
The “design has met the highest safety ranking, a low footprint and extremely low energy consumption, making the vehicle ideal for most people’s needs in cities as well as suburban roads,” Perlo said.