Joined: 16 May 2007
Solar power does offer us solutions to the challenges facing the motoring industry.
Solar power doesn't offer us solutions to the challenges facing the motoring industry.
The argument for:
When it comes to engineering something like a car, the important thing to realise is that there are no silver bullets. That's why we've been stuck with 1890s technology in cars right up to the present. But there is a certain amount of incremental change, and solar technology has the potential to be one of these changes to the benefit of the car industry in terms of emissions and as an alternative to fossil fuels.
The interesting thing about solar is that there is the possibility that it might be a whole lot more incremental than previous changes. But it is only a change and not a revolution. My estimation back in 1979 when I first wrote this stuff down was that one could expect very roughly 25km per day at 25km per hour, day after day, averaged across latitudes and climate zones, from a lightweight solar vehicle capable of carrying four people. And that is getting close to a quarter of vehicle use. That was when it occurred to me that the impact of the technology could be real.
The argument against:
We've all seen the news stories about Ford introducing a solar-powered concept car at CES 2014, and people watching the BBC or reading the Daily Mail might be forgiven for thinking that this new car is the future of motoring. But broadly speaking, it's only fair to say that solar doesn't supply us with meaningful solutions to combat the problems facing motoring. If you look at the new Ford concept car, you will notice that it has a few solar panels on the roof intended to harvest the Sun's energy and improve the range of the car. But you only have to look at the size of solar panels that are on the roofs of houses and farms across the country, to realise that the ones on top of any car are nowhere near large enough to power it. Bertrand Picard's Solar Impulse aircraft has 11,000 panels, and that's only just enough to power a plane carrying two people. On a car the surface area of the roof will only allow enough energy generation to power ancillary systems such as lights and radios. While that's great, it won't stop people having to go to a petrol station any time soon.