Solar-powered cars have long been an environmentalist wet dream. There have been some interesting concepts emerging during the past years, but nothing has ever come close to being commercially viable. However, recent news from a Chinese energy giant suggests that the dream might become reality much sooner than expected.
China’s alternative-fuel and electric vehicle industries have expanded rapidly in recent years. According to Eco-Business, figures from the China Machinery Industry Federation reveal that the country manufactured almost 80,000 green vehicles in 2014. This was three-and-a-half times more than the number produced in 2013, which means that the development seems to be more than exponential in growth. Out of the total number, almost 50,000 were electric vehicles and demand for cleaner transport is soaring across the country as the government tries to combat serious smog and air pollution issues.
One of the most recent (and most interesting) pieces of news within the area was released Monday, when renewables company Hanergy Holding Group Ltd announced that it will develop totally solar-powered cars that can go into commercial production as early as October this year. If this was not enough, the company confirmed in a post on its website that it has partnered with three foreign companies and two domestic firms to develop the vehicles as Hanergy looks to enter a “market with huge potential”, according to China Daily.
Hanergy already made big news last year when they partnered with the electric car manufacturer Tesla to build a charging network for electric vehicles in China. Back then, the company’s vice president Yhang Qingliang told the press that the company was “exploring ways to utilize its thin-film photovoltaic technology to provide solutions to the automobile industry”, as solar-centered website PV-Magazine reminds us. Well, it seems as if these were not empty words at all and the interesting announcement will lead to something real this very year. Below is a picture showing solar cells with the comapany’s thin-film, flexible, photovoltaic technology to be applied to the cars:
At the release in October, the company will not unveil one, but three to five solar-powered cars based on its thin film photovoltaic technology, according to news site the Global Times. Reportedly, the car models will integrate six square meters (64 square feet) of thin film solar modules on their frames. Theoretically, four hours of exposure to sunshine could produce enough electricity to power a one-ton car to run 80 to 100 kilometers (50 to 62 miles), at least according to Hanergy. However, some prominent people remain a bit skeptical. For instance, when Zhao Zheng (a professor at Beijing Normal University and a green energy expert) was interviewed by the Global Times, he highlighted that Hanergy has been aggressive in recent years with promoting its brand and the green concept. In the same interview he uttered the following statement:
“A lot of these promotions seem to just be talking about concepts. A better way to promote green energy to the public would be solid progress in applying photovoltaic technology to buildings, which is easier to achieve compared with solar cars”
However, Hanergy’s solar powered cars might be more than a concept considering some underlying factors. Since the company is highly involved in the charging station business, as stated earlier, the solar panels will probably just make cars able to travel a longer distance before they need to be recharged. Even if 80 to 100 km on solar power is quite impressive, it would probably not be viable to market such cars to consumers if the vehicles would run on this energy source only (and take four hours to recharge). The additional solar power could thus figure as a means to help remedy some hurdles in the advancements of electric vehicles, and make them run even longer without the need for the driver to take action and recharge.
The company’s thin-film solar cells (which are made by placing layers of photovoltaic material on a semiconductor wafer) find other quite novel applications as well. For instance, besides solar-powered cars, the company also sensed an opportunity in charging smartphones with its thin film technology. According to Bloomberg, Hanergy expects the market for thin-film cells designed for electric vehicles to total 46 gigawatts by 2020 and another 37 gigawatts for smartphones and similar electrical devices. Whether this becomes reality or not, the company certainly sets expectations high for this type of green energy.