Driving a solar car 2,700 KM sounds pretty awesome. A group of 50 students called Midnight Sun from the University of Waterloo are constructing their state-of-the-art solar car to compete in the 2018 American Solar Challenge. A wonderful mixture of engineering and computer science, solar cars are beautiful vehicles based on sustainable energy generation. However, we won’t see solar cars anytime soon.
The accomplishments of Midnight Sun should not be diminished. But solar powered vehicles will inevitably stumble into the same hardships that other battery powered vehicles have. Batteries suck. While we have dramatically increased the efficiency of capturing UV rays, our energy storage just doesn’t do well enough or work fast enough.
Electric vehicles struggle to compare with fossil fueled vehicles mostly because it takes too long to fill up the tank. While you can fill up with gas in a couple minutes, it takes 75 minutes to charge a Tesla. Taking a long road trip requires hour-long stops making it a massive inconvenience. Why does it take so long? Because our batteries can only charge so quickly and hold so much charge before becoming ridiculously cumbersome.
Stack the crappy battery with a solar cell and you get a couple additional issues with the availability of UV rays. However, most of those problems would be solved with a battery that stores large amounts of energy quickly. Overall, I love the possibilities of solar power. However, I think that we won’t see solar cars until we see significant advancements in battery technology. We’ve seen Germany struggle to use solar power efficiently on a large scale and it’s exactly due to not being able to store energy efficiently.
So, if you want to go into technology research… Dive into batteries! We need to continue to pour money into storing energy more efficiently. At the same time, get all hands on deck for solar tech to continue advancing it. Midnight Sun has a legacy of solar vehicles and research and are raising funds for their solar array on Kickstarter. Be sure to check them out and let us know what you think of the solar power conundrum in the comments!