Driving into the future with solar-charged electric cars

parallax-portland-solar-EVThe 20th century’s love affair with the automobile saw billions of vehicles deployed around the world, making ordinary people’s lives more convenient and enhancing their mobility. These benefits came with a heavy cost though: Harmful pollutants were spewed into the atmosphere in great quantities, contributing to the phenomenon of global warming.

New technology promises to alleviate this problem as battery-charged, electric vehicles are stepping into the forefront. These cars deliver a solid driving experience while generating hardly any tailpipe emissions.

Of course, the environmental friendliness of an electric vehicle depends upon the ways in which its electricity was produced, so car makers are investigating the use of solar energy for a completely clean solution.

Traditional auto firms, like Chevrolet with its Volt and Nissan with its LEAF, have been offering electric vehicles for years now. Tesla Motors exclusively manufacturers automobiles that use battery power, and its radical design philosophy and distribution model make it the go-to choice for style-conscious, green-friendly consumers. More than one million electric vehicles have been sold since they were first developed.

These vehicles plug into users’ electrical systems or public charging stations, which is a source of power that’s much cleaner than the gasoline that drives most other cars. Tesla’s innovative Powerwall battery contributes to making car-charging an even more ecologically sustainable option by allowing those with solar panels to store energy from the sun and then use it to charge their cars and power their home appliances.

Although electric vehicles currently have higher sticker prices than similar traditional models, they cost less to charge than it would cost to fill up with gas, and maintenance costs are cheaper because there are fewer moving parts that can become damaged or worn out.

A new crop of electrical vehicles is under development that aims to do away with the middleman: Instead of plugging into charging stations, these cars will source their energy directly from the sun’s rays.

EVX Ventures is working on a car, called “The Immortus,” that’s bedecked with solar panels and weighs so little that it requires no form of power other than solar to move around — although top speeds will be higher using a combination of solar and battery tech.

Meanwhile, Hellatek is experimenting with flexible and transparent organic solar cells. Its current best efforts clock in at an efficiency of 13.2 percent. There’s still some improvement to be made before the company reaches its target efficiency of 15 percent, but the current state of its technology represents a significant advance upon the three percent mark that was standard about a decade ago.

As self-driving cars move from imagination to reality, we can expect them to drive the adoption of solar hardware for automotive purposes. Google, Tesla, GM and other firms are working on driverless, electric vehicles that will not only help the environment but also make driving more convenient. Tesla has in fact already implemented certain automated features in its Model S line of cars through a free software upgrade.

According to Spark Energy Alberta, the replacement of our current vehicles with driverless models using renewable energy could result in a 95 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. Most of this reduction will come directly from replacing dirty gasoline with clean solar and other types of renewables.

Further gains in this area will be a consequence of the lighter bodies of autonomous vehicles as well as more fuel-efficient driving as computers adjust speeds and communicate with each other to cut back on energy expenditure.

As more and more people make a personal commitment to help the environment, we can only expect the popularity of electric vehicles to grow.

Combine this trend with advances in the solar industry and game-changing, self-driving cars, and it becomes easy to see how this technology will achieve widespread adoption in the coming decades.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done if we are to enjoy a sustainable future, and electrical vehicles are a key component of a winning energy solution.