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Buzz Lightyear: first solar-powered family car hits the market

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PV Magazine

What began as a university project by students at TU Eindhoven in the Netherlands in 2013 has this week reached a satisfying denouement as the world’s first solar-powered family car officially hits the market.

solar car

Capex to Opex: despite a high upfront cost of €119,000, the Lightyear One is theoretically free to run

The Lightyear One was developed by the team that won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in the 2013 cruiser class, which is a solar-powered car race held every year.

After spending years developing the race-winning vehicle, the students turned their attention to making the prototype a commercially viable family saloon option, and now has five orders for its €119,000 car.

“We used all the student-time knowledge to develop a commercial solar car,” said Lightyear’s Tesse Hartjes.

Assembled in the Netherlands at the Helmond Automotive Campus, and built using Dutch parts, the launch of the Lightyear One is expected to be achieved with investment of just a few million euros.

Ordinarily, a new model car launch can cost up to €1 billion euros, but Lightyear believes that its niche offering will attract enough consumers and investors.

Lightyear is confident of securing an addition 200 orders for its flagship vehicle by early next year.

The Lightyear One has a 500-mile driving range and could theoretically cover 10,000 km a year under Dutch sunshine, doubling to more than 20,000 km in sunnier climes such as Hawaii and California.

The vehicle is fitted with integrated solar panels at optimum locations across the roof and hood, with a battery that stores the energy harvested.

While the Lightyear One does feature a standard charging point typical of normal electric vehicles (EVs), the company CEO Lex Hoefsloot believes that the car can be operated completely independently of charging points.

“It’s a revolutionary step forward in electric mobility because we are able to combine a great look with extreme efficiency,” said Hoefsloot. “The first model makes science fiction become reality: cars powered using just the sun.”

The CEO added that the vehicle is ideal for eco-conscious drivers who live in regions with few EV charging stations.

“This is a statement to show that electric cars are ready for every corner of the planet,” said Hoefsloot. “It is the first step in our mission to make EVs available for everyone.”

The U.S. is the launch market for the Lightyear One, with European deliveries expected in early 2019. The company said.

Other companies have worked on the idea of solar-powered cars for quite some time, but there has been no rush to bring such prototypes to market en masse, at least not yet.

Chinese thin-firm aspirant Hanergy unveiled a model in 2015, but the current surge of EVs has served to stymie interest in solar-powered models.

Source: PV Magazine. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Chris Fraser

    The car area available for solar cells does not appear to be all that much. A good question would be How long would you expect to park in the sun for to harvest a range of 800 km ?

    • trackdaze

      Think the solar potential is 1kw per square metre. A five metre long by 2 metre wide vehicle would be blasted with a maximum 10kilowatts. Efficiencies and daylight hours then come into it. For example 10hours @ 25% would have 25kwhrs then. Enough for most days commutes.

      A forty foot container covered in panels supporting a hybrid semi trailer?

      • Chris Fraser

        It gets tricky here. According to BOM, in the June season with statistically average amounts of cloud in Sydney we get insolation of 0.55 kW/m2/day, over the average peak equivalent June hours of 3.8 hrs/day. This is much less than the annual average (with cloud) of 0.905 kW/m2/day over average daily peak hours of 5.06 hr. They’re almost certain to plug her in to the wall socket at night.

        • Hans the Elder

          kW/m^2/day makes no sense, you probably mean kWh/m^2/day.

          • Chris Fraser

            In a way you’re correct, the insolation figure is an average daily maximum. For example in Sydney in June, solar energy builds from zero kW at 7am, to 0.55 kW a little after 12pm, back down to zero at 5pm, over a ten hour period. For total yield on an average June day multiply maximum insolation by equivalent maximum solar hours – which in June is merely 5.06 hrs.Total daily insolation per m2 is 0.55 kW x 5.06 hr = 2.78 kWh/m2.Car PV area is say 5m2 and PV efficiency is say 20%. Daily yield on car PV is = 2.78 kWh/m2/day x 5 m2 x 0.2 = 2.78 kWh/day.An average 1.5 tonne EV requires say 0.4 kWh/km energy expense to move. Distance potential is then 2.78 / 0.4 = 7 km/day when the car is never shaded at all.

          • Hans the Elder

            In that case you should have written:

            “the average daily maximum insolation is 0.55 kW/m2”

  • George Darroch

    $200,000 for a car that doesn’t even exist yet? (Otherwise they would be showing us photos, not vague silhouettes). You’d be far better off buying a Leaf/Volt/3/S/X, and putting panels on your house roof. Unless your roof is confined to 2 square metres.

  • Ian

    When is someone going to produce a delivery van/ campervan covered with PV? Plenty of flat collector space available….
    With a min of 1 kW of panel getting full sun most of the day it could travel 20 -40 km/day or 1-200 km/week on sunshine. Perfect for some travellers.

  • MaxG

    Biggest contradiction ever: a family car for 180 grand… right.

  • Roger Brown

    Ian , you beat me to it ! Re-Gen with couriers stopping and going all day on a charge . Still waiting for a Hyundai E-Load van . Hopefully Tesla will build a van / 1 ton ute . Nissan has a E- Van / cab (leaf chassis ) but not here in oz .

  • Joe

    I’ll stick to riding my bicycle. My human power is free, healthy and reliable.