Oct 6, 2008

Are Solar Cars practical ?

Solar Cars !!... well, we all have heard this name sometime or the other. Many of us may have participated or saw the popular Solar Car races. So, what is the feasibility of these Solar vehicles to be used in daily life ?? Are they efficient enough ? Will they replace the present 4 wheelers in near future ? there are a lot many questions associated, when it comes to Solar cars.

Lets see the picture in detail...

What is a solar vehicle ?
A solar vehicle is an electric vehicle powered by renewable solar energy, obtained from solar panels on the surface (generally, the roof) of the vehicle.

Solar cells:
Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert the Sun's energy directly into electrical energy. Solar vehicles are not practical day-to-day transportation devices at present, but are primarily demonstration vehicles and engineering exercises.

The solar array consists of hundreds of photovoltaic solar cells converting sunlight into electricity. The larger arrays in use can produce over 2 kilowatts (2.6 hp).

Designing of Solar vehicles:
The design of a solar vehicle is severely limited by the energy input into the car (batteries and power from the sun). Virtually all solar cars ever built have been for the purpose of solar car races (with notable exceptions).

Solar cars are often fitted with gauges as seen in conventional cars. Aside from keeping the car on the road, the driver's main priority is to keep an eye on these gauges to spot possible problems.

Battery: The battery pack plays the same role in a solar car that a petrol tank plays in a normal car in storing power for future use. Solar cars use a range of batteries including lead-acid batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH), Nickel-Cadmium batteries (NiCd), Lithium ion batteries and Lithium polymer batteries.

Mechanics: The mechanical systems of a solar car are designed to keep friction and weight to a minimum while maintaining strength. Designers normally use titanium and composites to ensure a good strength-to-weight ratio.

Solar cars usually have three wheels, but some have four. Three wheelers usually have two front wheels and one rear wheel: the front wheels steer and the rear wheel follows.

Problems ?
  • There's the problem of how to get around at night or on rainy days when the sun is nowhere to be seen ? Here's where a battery or small gas engine would come in. Most viable solar car projects rely on additional power sources to ensure that the car gets going any time you need it to.
  • And to add, these one-seaters look like pancakes on wheels. As you can guess, driving a car covered in solar panels may not be the most temperate experience. These purely solar-powered cars can heat up quickly since the passenger area is enveloped by the cells.
So, the near future doesn't seem welcoming the Solar idea. Although there are hybrids and concepts being designed to utilize renewable energy sources but the day when you drop your kid to school, on a solar vehicle, seems far away.

Did you Know
Solar car racing has been going on since the 1980s. Common entrants include school, corporate and hobbyist teams.
Here are a couple of the longest-distance examples:
World Solar Challenge: started in 1983, this 1,872-mile (3,012-kilometer) race goes across Australia and happens every three years.
Toyota American Solar Challenge: a 2,400-mile (3,862-kilometer) race from Dallas, Texas, to Alberta, Calgary.


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