Solar Electric Vehicles

Anthony Tsodikov
December 11, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015

The Rise of Electric Cars

Fig. 1: Ford's C-Max Solar Energi Concept. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

While the concept of an electric car was introduced over 100 years ago, the revival of the electric car came in the beginning of the 21st century. It started in 2000 with the release of the Toyota Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle. It continued in 2006, when Tesla Motors, at the time a small Silicon Valley startup, began producing electric sports cars that could go 300 miles on one charge. Since then, high gasoline prices coupled with rising concerns about carbon pollution have helped make the the Toyota Prius, Tesla, and other electric cars a great success.

Time to Go Solar?

Although the electric car industry has been growing, there are still very few electric cars on the road today. One reason why electric cars make up a small perentage of the auto market share involves the power of the battery. While luxary electric cars such as Tesla could go 300 miles on a full charge, the more affordable electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf can only go 80 to 90 miles on full charge. [1] One way to fix this issue is to put solar panels on the roof of the electric car. The solar panels would assist the battery while the car isn't plugged in, thus extending the range of the battery. Think about how much free energy we are giving up when we are stuck in traffic after work or when our car is parked outside!

Ford's C-Max Solar Energi

Throughout the last couple of years, automakers have been working on adding solar panels to their electric cars. The main issue has been that the solar panels sized for the roof of a vehicle are not strong enough to actually power the vehicle. However, Ford with its C-Max Solar Energi concept has a solution to this problem. The C-Max Solar Energi, shown is Fig. 1, is a plug-in hybrid with a rooftop solar panel that uses a Fresnel lens, a type of compact lens that acts as a magnifying glass, to concentrate sunlight on the car's roof. To keep the car positioned under the lense and aligned with the most concentrated area of sunlight, the car is programmed to move forward a few feet on its own throughout the day. [2] With the car in the right place, the solar panels are eight times more efficient. While we are at work, our parked car recharges and after six hours, the solar cells generate eight kilowatt- hours. This is enough to go 21 miles, which for many people is more than enough on a given day. [3]


Electric vechicles powered by solar may be the future, but further progress must be made as 6 hours to fully recharge a battery is too long. Although Ford's C-Max Solar Energi is not a game changer, it is a step in the right direction. With pollution being a major issue in the world today, we must keep thinking of ways to make electric vehicles more efficient and thus more popular.

© Anthony Tsodikov. 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] H. Anderson, "The Future of Electric Cars," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2014.

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

[3] D. Baker, "Ford's Experimental Car Has Solar Panels on Roof," San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Jan 14.