Not long ago, the solar car seemed like just a dream of the future, but as research and development in the solar energy field has progressed, solar powered cars are finally becoming a reality.
Even better, they are becoming an affordable reality! Partnerships between car companies and solar panel manufacturers (Ford Motors and SunPower) are not only bringing solar powered cars to the consumer marketplace, they are creating much needed positive publicity for the solar industry.
People who still think that solar energy is still too expensive or too far in the future to be useful in their day to day lives may soon be driving next to solar powered cars on their neighborhood streets.
They will be finding out that their next door neighbor just bought a portable solar panel system for around US$100 that keeps the batteries in his golf cart fully charged and reduces his monthly electricity bill as a result.
With the visibility that solar power cars are bringing to the clean energy industry, solar power may finally become a mainstream reality. What Companies Currently Make a Solar Car?
In 2011, the first solar-powered car in the United States, the Ford Focus Electric, will be introduced to the California market with an affordable price tag near $10,000. It will be equipped with roof-top solar panels that will generate 2.5 kilowatts of electricity.
This will provide enough energy to enable the vehicle to drive 1,000 per month before needing recharging. The panels will not directly power the car, but will send power back into the grid when the car is plugged in for charging.
The Tesla Roadster and Model S are sportier and more expensive electric cars with price tags above $100,000. But they can accelerate from 0 to 0 in less than 4 seconds and drive at speeds up to 125 mph.
Although they do not carry solar panels that collect sunlight and convert it into electricity like the 2011 Ford Focus Electric, the batteries in the Tesla cars can be charged using solar panels, so they can be loosely categorized as solar power cars.
If you're willing to build your own solar car from a kit, there's a company in Maine that offers them. The car looks and drives like a glorified golf cart, and is not suitable for highway driving or long commutes, but it will move along at 25 miles per hour for 30 miles, which is fast and far enough for many people to travel around town for errands.
The vehicle is equipped with the necessary accessories to make it street legal, such as turn signals, seat belts, lights, and it comes with a Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin, which allows it to be legally registered in most states. (Source: http://sunnev.com/)
On the other end of the spectrum for state-of-the art solar power cars, look to the design teams from several universities and non-profit groups around the world, including Australia, the United States, Italy, Turkey, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, India, Canada, Chile and Germany.
These teams compete in The World Solar Challenge, an event that started in 2009 and showcases cutting edge solar technology that is not yet available to consumer markets. (Source: http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org/)
If you are looking for affordable solar technology you can use with your car right now, solar car battery chargers are the best solution. You can find small, inexpensive kits available that will trickle charge a car battery to keep it fresh and full, or larger kits that will recharge a depleted 12 volt battery.
Traditional rigid solar panels can be used, or you can invest in more light weight and flexible solar panels made with thin film technology.
These systems can also charge batteries in other vehicles that us 12 volt batteries such as golf carts or jet skis, and can also be used to charge batteries in laptop computers, cell phones, cordless tools and other household devices. Kits start at around US$30.
For less than US$10, you can start experiencing the process of photovoltaic energy with a solar powered toy car kit. You can assemble a tiny 2-inch car that will motor along your sidewalk or patio powered entirely by the sun.
Solar toy kits come complete with just one solar cell, a DC (direct current) motor and the part that build the car itself. These kits are a low cost and entertaining way to introduce both adults and children to solar energy.
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