The eco-friendly perks behind a hybrid car will soon be complemented with the assistance of none other than Panasonic who, early this year, announced their development of photovoltaic roofs. Panasonic apparently sees great potential in the solar panel market, which some could argue was used more like a gimmick than real innovation.
With pricing in the solar panel market being fierce and lower prices causing solar manufacturers to almost over-saturate the market, there has been a push to get the panels onto seemingly everything and anything. Panasonic opened up the market for solar panels to be used on motor vehicles and in doing so made a bold first step in history.
“We made history in the auto industry and the solar industry…”
-Shingo Okamoto General manager at Panasonic (Washington Post)
It seems that other industry professionals will follow suit, with none other than the Tesla chairman, Elon Musk, announcing the possibility of newer models that will be hosting solar support too. The auto industry could hold massive potential for solar panels, with over 200 million cars in use in the US alone, and electric vehicles sales up 37% in 2016. It would seem that the market is nearly limitless.
The adoption of solar support will mean improved performance for hybrid vehicles, with Toyota estimating a high point of 3.8 miles from a single charge depending on the time of year. It is easy to argue about the effectiveness of solar panels, as the output of solar power is small at best. However, Panasonic boasts a wattage output of 150w, which is more than three times the industry standard. Also, solar roofs have room for frequent improvement, with a possible increase of surface area allowing for increased solar performance.
“By filling all available space with cells, it is possible to extend the range easily to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).” -Shoichi Nanako, Chief Engineer for Prius (Bloomberg)
Solar power could be a huge step forward, as Toyota estimates that solar rooftops could result in a 90-percent reduction of carbon dioxide emission by 2050. Panasonic engineers have taken all possible situations into account, such as unpredictable shadow and shade blocking the solar panels, and even constant vibration considered as possible variables that would affect the output.
This isn’t Toyota’s first attempt at a solar rooftop, however, as Toyota had released the conception of a Prius with solar support back in 2009 with a completely different and less streamlined design. Toyota had initially planned to power only the car’s ventilation system via solar energy, with the meek output of 56 watts available. The innovation of the latest design allows the solar panels to fit sleekly, bending to the curves of the vehicle, and keeping all the gracefulness of the Prius alive while offering significantly more power than the previous version.
Some theorize that even with this new and vast market opening, solar panels will remain nothing more than a gimmick. It is true that the effective range of solar panels will always be limited. However, this system is an encouraging breakthrough, and we should expect to see more innovation to come.