Solar Cars

Michelle Ramadan
November 30, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Solar Panels. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The majority of vehicles on the road today operate by burning fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel. These nonrenewable fossil fuels are not only finite, but are also hurting the environment. The burning of these fuels releases carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere that ultimately contributes to global climate change. An environmentally friendly solution to this energy crisis is solar power. Solar power is considered one of the most dependable green energy sources available today.

How Solar Cars Work

A solar car is a vehicle used for land transportation fueled by solar power from the sun. Solar panels are the boards seen in Fig. 1. They collect the sun's rays and host the process of converting the sun's energy into usable energy. They are made up photovoltaic cells, usually silicon based, to absorb light. The electron movements and interactions inside the photovoltaic cells trigger electrical current that powers the car. Thousands of these cells are needed to create enough power to operate a car.

Solar Cars Take The Road

In 2014, the first completely solar car designed for normal road travel was created in the United States. Nicknamed Stella, this car was the first vehicle of its kind created for everyday family use. This was revolutionary in opening the solar car modeling to cater to consumer usage. It can travel between 484 miles on a single charge during the day. [1] Toyota has increased their efforts in transitioning from traditional fossil fuels to solar power in the past years as well. The 2010 Prius was the first model with a solar powered cooling unit. Though the vehicle also relied on fossil fuels, it showed that solar power could be used in vehicles while also maintaining the comfort and style of modern cars.

Future of Solar Cars

Hanergy Holding Group has announced production of four solar-powered electric concept vehicles to start production in 2020. The vehicles are designed with the same style of modern vehicles but with solar panels on the rooftops and bonnets. With a four-hour charge in sulinght, the vehicles can drive between 80 to 100 kilometers. Additionally, the vehicle has a full range of 350 kilometers if charged at an EV charging station. As the world's largest thin-film solar power company, it has made tremendous progress in extending the rand of electric vehicle using solar power. [2] Tesla recently has also increased their initiatives toward solar powered technology. Tesla plans to buy Solar City, the United States largest installer of solar panels. This acquisition, along with the sale of customizable solar roof panels, has consumers excited about the future of solar powered vehicles.


Although a car relying solely on solar power with a modern style has yet to hit the streets, we see a tremendous amount of progress in that direction. With increased technology and a strive towards energy efficient alternatives, the future of cars may indeed be solar.

© Michelle Ramadan. 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] ""Could Your Next Car Be Solar Powered?" CNBC. 8 Jul14.

[2] S.Kolesnikov-Jessop, "Solar as Industrial Revolution," New York Times, 30 Nov 14.