There is a bright future for cars thanks to advancements in the solar-powered vehicle industry constantly developing. Of course, all of that wouldn’t even be possible without the tremendous advancements in photovoltaic technology, which have truly been skyrocketing. These breakthrough technologies have paved the way for people to create unbelievably efficient solar-powered cars.
The latest achievement is brought to you by students from the Sunswift team of the Australian University of New South Wales (UNSW). They are a small team who built a new solar-powered electric car just to completely obliterate the previously established record for solar-powered cars. Amusingly enough, that previous record was their own. Well, they did it… they broke the world record and in blowout proportions!
This new car used only 3.25 kWh/100 km, over 40% less energy compared to the previous record which was at 5.5 kWh/100 km. Thus making the car around 25 times more efficient than an average car in the US (at 25 MPGe) and nearly 5 times more efficient than a Tesla Model 3 (at 170 MPG).
They named the car ‘Violet’ and drove it across Australia, specifically from Perth to Sydney, for just $50 worth of electricity. Comparing price value of energy usage: It normally costs more than that to fill up your car tank with gasoline, which doesn’t get you very far, and they were able to cross the whole continent!
It crossed the 4,100 km (2,555 miles) in a total of 6 days, with an average of 600 km (370 miles) and 20-24 kWh per day. That is pretty amazing considering that the onboard storage battery was rated for 10-20 kWh, and the team used only solar power to charge that storage battery.
Yes, they made it to the finish line, but the race to beat the record was not an easy one. There were obstacles and setbacks along the way. Their journey included both a battery fire and a rear suspension failure, which makes the feat even more impressive on top of the fact that they reached the finish line 2 days ahead of schedule. According to Courtney Morris, the mechanical team leader and mechanical engineering student:
“It’s always so nerve-racking to see the car that you built with your own hands on the road. I’m always afraid that something could change at any moment, but it all went pretty well and the team dynamic was great.”
Violet is the sixth car the team has created, and the most practical one yet. It sports a wedge and sliver-shaped solar-powered race car designs in favor of a more standard sedan-style with four doors. And this model even includes a front and rear trunk, interactive screen controls, parking sensor aids and a backup camera – a pretty important feature considering the solar-powered car lacks a conventional rear window because that would hog valuable solar panel space.
- To save weight, the car itself is built on a carbon fiber chassis. The entire vehicle weighs just 360 kg (794 lb) without a driver.
- Covering 5 square meters (54 square feet) of the hood, roof and trunk lid are 318 mono-crystalline photovoltaic cells. These are high-quality solar panels rated with an efficiency of approximately 22%.
- Power is provided by two rear-wheel hub motors. They propel the solar-powered car to a maximum of 140 km/h (87 mph), however, the car generally cruises a bit slower for higher efficiency. The team illustrates this with an easy to understand description:
“When Violet is coasting at 60km/h, she uses the same amount of energy as a 4 slice toaster.”
There are conventional cars out there (available on the market) getting into the solar game too. Hyundai and Kia unveiled solar cell-covered roofs on their own electric vehicles that can help trickle charge those vehicles’ batteries. And even though there aren’t too many of them to be seen driving around on today’s streets yet, recent advancements like this one bode well for the future of solar-powered transportation.