The first solar cars made their appearance in the late 1970’s. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the first completely powered solar car was developed in 1984 by Greg Johanson and Joel Davidson.
Since then, the public has had an on again/off again love affair with solar powered cars. The idea of using the sun’s energy as fuel is inherently appealing. However many people have also raised valid questions about the usefulness of the solar powered car as a reliable means of transportation.
Solar cars use photovoltaic cells (PVCs) to convert the sun’s rays into electricity. In newer designs, the electricity is used in two ways. First, it powers the motor so that the car will move. Second, some of the electricity is stored in a battery so that the car will be able to function on cloudy days, at night, and in dark spaces like parking garages.
Photovoltaic cells cost anywhere from $10 to $400 per cell. The more expensive the cells, the more efficient they are at gathering and converting the sun’s energy. This means that constructing a solar powered car may be way beyond your budget.
And even if you do come up with the money, you won’t get a luxury transport. Solar powered cars are made with very lightweight frames and can generally only accommodate one person, the driver. If you are in an accident, the frame will serve as poor protection. Additionally, solar powered cars can get very warm on the inside and can be uncomfortable to operate.
None of this means, however, that solar powered cars should be written off altogether. Rather, it means that while purely solar powered cars aren’t necessarily practical, solar energy can be a valuable force in supplementing other forms of power.