Solar Power For Transport

The rise of the solar industry and the availability of solar resources have led developers to seek additional applications for power.  Traditionally used for residential and commercial heat or electricity, solar power is now being considered as a potential transport fuel.  Unlike traditional transport fuels, such as petroleum or even natural gas, solar power is renewable, and though intermittent, provides plenty of energy to be captured at the earth’s surface.  Countries such as Australia, with a growing solar industry and high quality solar resources, may consider looking into solar power as the transport fuel of the future.

Solar powered cars may seem to many like a technology born from science fiction.  When most people think of solar powered transportation, they imagine sophisticated vehicles with solar panels for a roof.  In actuality, we are much closer to solar powered vehicles than ever before.  The key to utilizing solar power for transport lies in electric vehicles.


Solar Powered Electric Vehicles

It is a well-known fact that solar panels convert sunlight to electricity. It is also well known that many new plug-in vehicles have the ability to partially, or completely, run on electricity.  At this point, we need only to connect these two facts to create a solar powered vehicle.  A solar panel or array, whether residential or as part of a solar plant, can create electricity that may be used to power electric vehicles.  The result: renewable powered vehicles.  Now, we have not only found a way to create solar-powered cars, but have also solved the main issue with electric vehicles: the fuel source.

Many recent studies have shown that electric vehicles are only as clean as their local grid mix. Charging electric vehicles off of solar provides a zero emissions power source, creating a mode of transportation with zero tailpipe emissions, and zero fuel source emissions.

Solar Powered Fuel Cell Vehicle

Perhaps further in the future lies another way for solar power to be used as a transport fuel.  Instead of using solar panels to create electricity to be delivered to electric vehicles, we may utilize solar powered electrolyzers to create hydrogen to power a fuel cell vehicle.  This technology is currently prohibitively expensive, but research and development may reduce costs in the future, providing a second way to use solar as a transport fuel.

Of course, there is always the potential to create vehicles like those seen recently at the World Solar Challenge, but solar powered electric vehicles seem like the clear option for near-term development for solar transport.

  • 18 Nov, 2013
  • Kit Man Chan

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