The Future of Solar Cars

Kyle Murphy
December 14, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2014


Fig. 1: Tokai University shows solar car to sailors. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With over a billion cars on the road today,the smog-filled air caused largely by these vehicles' emission of greenhouse gasses has become an increasingly large concern for both the public and scientists alike. Not only are we burning up all the fossil fuels of the Earth, but the pollution that stems from these vehicles is having many negative impacts on the lives of people due to global warming. While scientists have been looking for alternate sources of fuel to power cars, the safest most efficient way may be to harness the energy from our own sun.

Solar Cars Today

In today's world, almost all cars still run on gasoline, and while electric cars are much more present now then they have been, they still are not fully clean when it comes to the environment. Solar cars may very be the way of the future along with ones powered by electricity. While solar cars aren't on the road currently, many are making steps so that it may not be too far in the future where these types of vehicles will be the norm. At the Eindhoven University of Technology, Solar Team Eindhoven, a group of students have created "Stella, a four seater family car covered in 'high-yield silicum solar panels' and powered by the sun." [1] Stella is powered exclusively by the sun and when fully charged can go 780 km during the day, or 430 km at night. [1] In addition to this, Ford had presented a concept car earlier this year called the C-Max Solar, which looks like a regular Sedan and has photovoltaic cells on the roof which act like a magnifying glass to the Sun. While this car hasn't been planned to be sold and doesn't generate enough power to run on sunlight alone, it is a step in the right direction that a big car company like Ford would begin to test this technology in their products. [2] With solar panels becoming cheaper and more advanced, it may not be too far off before all types of cars harness this technology.

How Solar Cars Work

While commercial cars today do not posses the technology to run only on sunlight, there are some that are able to use the sun's energy for different functions of the vehicle. Earlier this year, Ford had introduced its concept car called C-Max Solar Energi which was an electric car that could be plugged into an electric socket, but also contains acrylic lenses on the roof which can concentrate the sunlight up to eight times. [3] The issue with this vehicle, however is that it takes almost an entire day for the solar battery to charge, so the car still is reliant upon electricity and a gas-powered motor.


While today it seems that we are still quite far from being able to create commercial cars that run only on sunlight, we may not actually be that far off. According to Roy Cobbenhagen, Solar Team Eindhoven's technical director, the advance in efficiency and drop of price of solar panels could potentially make this possible within the next ten years. [1]

© Kyle Murphy. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Frangoul, "Could Your Next Car Be Solar Powered?" CNBC, 8 Jul 14.

[2] M. L. Wald, "From Ford, a Plug-In That Tracks the Sun," New York Times, 2 Jan 14.

[3] D. Baker, "Ford'sExperimental Car Has Solar Panels on Roof," San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Jan14.