Millions and millions enjoyed all of the gizmos and gadgets that the Jetsons had at their disposal, but it was always the car that pulled people in. There was always something neat about seeing the Jetsons fly around in their little “spaceship car”. There was something inspiring about watching them zoom high above the city during their morning commute.
Sure, there had been other futuristic vehicles shown to the general public before George started zipping around in that tiny little spaceship, but this was one of the first futuristic vehicles that really showed us how amazing technology like this could be integrated so effortlessly into our day to day lives.
Well, flying cars are still quite a ways away (though there are numerous teams all over the world working on designing and developing them) – but there’s an even more exciting technology threatening to break through into the mainstream in the next few years that could change the face of automobile history forever.
We’re talking of course about “stealing” energy from the sun and using it to run solar cars!
What exactly are solar powered cars?
They are absolutely incredible vehicles that are quite literally powered by solar panels and solar electricity. Many of the prototype solar cars today are older model vehicles that have been stripped of every single unnecessary component (to help shave as much weight as possible) and then outfitted with an electric motor drive system. That drive system is powered by photovoltaic cells (PVC) and solar panels.
These are the same kinds of panels that you’d find on any house that has been outfitted for solar power, but obviously cut down and modified to mount directly on the hood or trunk of an automobile.
Some of the most ingenious vehicles on the road today (test road, anyway), sun powered cars are a lot closer to becoming mainstream than most people expect.
Just how efficient and reliable are solar powered vehicles?
One of the reasons that sun powered vehicles have absolutely taken off in the last few years (no pun intended) is because of the incredible leap in fossil fuel prices we’ve all been dealing with over the last decade and a half or so.
Gasoline prices at the pump are a lot lower than the record highs they were just a few years ago, but the prices are still significantly higher than they were 10 or 15 years ago. This means people are really hurting when they go to fill their gas tanks.
This (and the incredibly rapid development of some pretty nifty pieces of technology) has pushed the renewable and clean energy industries much faster than expected. Now we are looking at some pretty cool and innovative new solutions that might help us to eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels almost altogether.
You see, solar powered cars are using the same incredible technology that some of the most popular hybrids and all electric cars (like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, and the Tesla S Roadster) take advantage of as far as their electric motors are concerned. They’ve been using both solar panels and regenerative braking systems to charge up the batteries.
It’s an innovative new solution to an age-old problem. The problem being, how do you effectively power a modern vehicle with an alternative fuel source? The solution isn’t quite as far-fetched as it used to be in the past.
A lot of this is thanks to the fact that photovoltaic cells (PVC) components used in modern solar panels are ridiculously more efficient than they ever were in the past. These amazing little components are tied to semi-conductors (usually made out of silicon) that not only absorb light, but then also free electrons in those semi-conductors to create electricity.
This electricity freely flows into the battery pack or electronic engine of the vehicle, and combined with regenerative friction brake systems that also work to be charge batteries without any fossil fuel sources, creates a truly “renewable energy” solution that is as clean and as green as it gets.
Are there any solar powered cars currently in production?
Solar powered cars have been around since the late 1970s. Ed Passerini constructed the first vehicle powered entirely by solar (the Bluebird) back in 1977. A few years after that another car was built (the Quiet Achiever, built by Larry Perkins), but we haven’t seen a full-blown production car from one of the major manufacturers yet.
Both Ford and Mazda have been playing around with solar technology since the mid-2000s. Both of them installed solar panel systems to run key features of their electrical components, but not the engine. Ford has been using the panels to power the headlights and Mazda is using the panels to help recharge their hybrid batteries.
A concept car from Cadillac (the Provoq, built in 2008) was intended to become an almost entirely solar panel powered vehicle. Design flaws scrapped that original vision and they instead opted to use the solar panels for ancillary power like the Ford and Mazda vehicles before it.
But now Toyota and Honda both have jumped headfirst into the arena of solar powered vehicles. Each of these Japanese giants have committed to creating a completely solar powered vehicle ready for production within the next 10 years.
Let’s not forget about all the small independent shops out there using platforms like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sources to create their very own solar powered vehicles. They do this with full intention to “sell out” to a company like Tesla to put their models into a major production run.
The race is very, very much on.
How long will it be until we are all driving solar powered cars?
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to know exactly when we’re all going to be able to drive super futuristic cars just like the Jetsons did.
However, we are much, much closer to that becoming a reality than we’ve ever been before – and none of us should be surprised if we are cruising down the highways and byways of America in a solar powered vehicle before 2025.
What a wild time to be alive!