A Solar-Powered Future? MHH International Reviews The Idea
Come forward in time to the 1990's when Toyota released the world’s first commercially mass-produced hybrid car, the now legendary Prius. Nowadays, electric and hybrid cars abound and you can pick one up by simply walking into your local dealership. There's also plenty on the used car market now too. The electric car is a perfect example of how consumer demands shift throughout the years, demanding innovation and new ideas from manufacturers. In short, EV's are catching on, if principally in urban areas.
Trouble is, even electric cars have a limit. They still need to be charged, they need to use electricity generated from non-renewable sources (for now) and the range issue still loiters around. So what’s the next logical step? To use a renewable resource instead!
The Solar Car
The very first solar car was actually revealed in 1955 by a Mr William G. Cobb. It was far too small to drive and it was very clumsy, but it marks the starting point of the solar vehicle. In 1962 the world’s first drivable solar car was shown to the public. It was an electric car that was powered by over 10,000 solar cells mounted on the roof. In 1977, an American University professor built the Bluebird solar vehicle, a prototype of a full-scale vehicle.
Around the same time in Japan, a scientist created a solar bicycle, which was then later scaled up to include a 4-wheeled solar “car” (it was really just two bicycles). From then until the modern day, several solar cars have been prototyped and trialled. So will the solar car see a rising popularity like the EV, or is it doomed to fail like the many electric vehicle attempts of the past?
One of the most important factors that will determine if solar powered cars will be successful is consumer demand and trends. As seen with electric vehicles, the availability of petrol and diesel made electric vehicles less attractive to the public. But as ecological awareness shifts drivers realise that they’re using non-renewable resources and costing themselves a lot of money to run their vehicle. One day, sometime after 2040 if the government is to be believed, we will all switch over to long-term solutions such as hybrids or electrics. Solar cars could be the next step.
But there are still problems. Solar panels are incredibly expensive, which in turn makes a solar-powered vehicle an expensive investment that right now might not be commercially viable. We don't know what science holds for us in the future but if a way can be found to deliver the same economies of scale that the internal combustion engine received then one day we will motor on thanks to the power of the sun. Except the UK of course where we will only be able to use our solar cars on the couple of times a year when the sun actually shines.