Solar Energy Facts

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Solar Powered Cars

What is a Solar Powered Car?

A question you may be asking yourself is “what is a solar powered car?” Before answering that question, we need to consider what it is that generates solar energy. All solar power comes from the energy of our Sun, which is dwarf star that is located 93 million miles from the Earth. It is a mid-size star compared to the billions of others in the universe. The interior of the Sun is filled with dense gases and is a region that has an extreme temperature. It is estimated that it is approximately 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Light and heat produced by the Sun are produced through nuclear fusion.

By definition, a solar powered car is an electric car that receives its power from the sun’s energy.  For those who want to go green, it is 100% green. When considering a solar powered car one should do a comparison of all green cars first. Solar-powered cars all get their fuel from the exact same place – the sun. These cars use hundreds of photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. Each cell produces about one-half volt of electricity. It is the Sun’s energy that powers the electric motor in the car. It also charges a battery for use when the Sun is hidden behind a cloud. If too much energy is diverted to the battery, the car will run too slowly to keep up in the race. If the car was designed to put all of its energy into propelling the vehicle, it would stop in cloudy weather. That’s the reason it must accomplish both objectives.

Since the sun is above us, the photovoltaic (PV) cells must be on the top portion of the car so they come in contact with solar light. Due to our limited technology, solar cars are limited to a fairly short distance that they can travel without the sun’s rays. Therefore they aren’t a real efficient form of transportation for much of our daily travel.

Engineers and scientists still have many questions to answer and a lot of problems to tackle before solar power becomes an efficient and economical way to fuel vehicles. There are some real advantages to solar power as a source of energy to power cars. First, solar energy releases no pollutants into the atmosphere. The best thing about it is that it is inexhaustible. Regardless of how much you use, there is still more available. That’s why it is called renewable energy. It’s not going to be in the next several years, but if research continues, and technology keeps improving, one day solar energy may replace today's combustion engine cars!

Since solar cars need of hundreds of photovoltaic cells that convert sun energy into electricity, they are often designed with very unusual shapes.  But there are also other factors also play into the odd shapes and design of these cars.  Those factors include reducing the wind drag factor, minimizing weight, and maximizing sun exposure. These all contribute to the car’s unusual shape, while trying to make them as safe as possible.

Unlike so many other devices that utilize solar energy, there are a variety of solar cell technologies that are used. Among those technologies is mono-crystalline poly-crystalline, gallium arsenide, and silicon.

Solar powered cars have been around since 1982. The first solar car was driven by the Australian Hans Tholstrup between Sydney and Perth, approximately 2,800 miles. It took him twenty days to complete his trip. Solar powered car racing has been an annual event since 1985. Australia holds the World Solar Challenge each year which is 1877 miles in length. During this race, the cars make it clear across the continent. Some of these electric cars get up over 90 miles per hour. A second annual solar vehicle race takes place in North America and is called the American Solar Challenge (ASC). It was previously known as the North American Solar Challenge and Sunrayce. This is a race where teams from colleges and universities all over North America design, build and race solar powered vehicles along a long stretch of road. This tests the team of each car entered in their engineering skills, teamwork and endurance as the cars are raced across thousands of miles over public roads.  Each year the race travels a different course. In 2010, the race took place on June 20-26. This race started in Tulsa, Oklahoma and ended in Naperville, Illinois, a 1,100 mile course. The 2008 race was in July, and was between Dallas, Texas and Calgary, Alberta. The total miles of this race totaled 2,500.