Interest in solar energy is huge right now, and companies across various industries — not just energy — are rushing to capitalize on it. This explosion of interest is especially evident in solar transport and as a result, we are currently seeing the introduction of ultra-modern solar vehicles.
Components of the Silent 55 solar-powered yacht. Image source: Bloomberg
The yacht contains 30 high-efficiency solar panels, lithium batteries, and maximum power point tracking (MPPT) solar charge regulators. The manufacturer claims that there is enough power, plus storage, for the yacht to sail all night – non-stop. It also has a 15-kVA inverter to power all the electrical appliances, including a powered aft swim platform and a 1,500-watt electric windlass.
"What this represents to the yachtsman, among other features, is the ability to cruise for many hours at normal speed and throughout the entire day and evening at reduced speed. Silent-Yachts sets the standard for an entirely new feeling in yachting: No fuel. No maintenance. Pure solar-powered luxury."
#3 Solar electric cars
Solar electric vehicles were once thought of as a pipedream in the auto industry. However, recent technological advancements have broadened the industry’s horizons, and we’re now seeing many different brands launch cars that incorporate the use of solar.
For instance, Hyundai recently announced a new version of the solar-powered car, the Sonata Hybrid, for the North American market. Though not yet available, the model features rooftop solar panels which, Hyundai claims, boost the car's fuel efficiency, support its electric power source, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The Sion, with 248 solar cells integrated into its body and a 35 kWh battery capacity, boasts a driving range of approximately 155 miles on a single charge.
Solar-powered Sion with invisible solar cells. Image source: Sono Motors
Another company, Lightyear, announced the debut of its solar electric vehicle (EV) — Lightyear One, with the ability to drive up to 497 miles on a single charge. The company also affirms that with its fast charging capability, Lightyear One can charge up to 354 miles of energy in as little as an hour.
The market for solar-powered vehicles is not limited to these options - in fact, the industry is growing exponentially, through new designs and advanced technologies.
In 2016, the Solar Impulse 2, an aircraft powered by the sun, circumnavigated the globe — without using any fuel.
The plane, which is powered by over 17,000 solar cells mounted on its wings, crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans without a drop of fuel. The plane’s solo pilot, Bertrand Piccard, reached 29,000 feet during the day and glided back to 5,000 feet at night.
This is what Piccard had to say about solar innovation:
“These technologies now can make the world much better and we have to use them, not only for the environment, but also because they are profitable and create jobs.”
After the success of Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered HAPS (high altitude pseudo satellite), the Zephyr-S built by Airbus, completed a flight that lasted for 25 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes. A larger version of this — the Zephyr-T — is currently under development.
Sophie Thomas, Program Head of Zephyr, explains how Zephyr aircrafts can revolutionize the ways in which humanitarian, defense, and environmental missions are executed. According to Thomas, Zephyr has the capability to alert authorities about forest fires and the speed at which they are spreading. It can also ensure that soldiers, fighting in mountainous or hilly terrain, can communicate effectively.
The company also affirms that no runway is required to launch the Zephyr airplanes — all that is needed is a large flat area and some space (approximately 20 feet) for a ground control station.
Here’s a glimpse into the future of aviation:
#1 Solar-powered 'Hyperloop' train
Back in 2013, Elon Musk unveiled the idea of the Hyperloop — an ultra high-speed transit system to significantly cut down travel times between major cities. According to him, Hyperloop will take just 30 minutes — instead of several hours — for a trip from LA to San Francisco.
Musk envisioned Hyperloop as a potential fifth mode of transportation — after cars, trains, planes, and boats — in order to carry people or freight through the use of self-propelled pods. Because the pods are built in low-pressure vacuum tubes, they avoid the lag from air resistance and are pushed at speeds greater than 700 miles per hour, providing a fast, comfortable, and efficient means of transport.
The vision behind Hyperloop is impressive: offering people a way to travel long distances that is not just fast but clean— unlike traveling by airplanes, which is highly polluting.
A prototype of the Hyperloop train, powered by solar energy. Image source: CNN
The train tunnels would be outfitted with “bendable solar panel skin modules” to produce power for Hyperloop and its interactive information boards. Additional energy would come from bladeless wind turbine forests built alongside the tunnel.
It will take at least a decade for the concept to become a reality, but companies have already started to explore all the possibilities surrounding it.
The incorporation of solar into vehicle manufacturing is still relatively new. This means that most of the vehicles currently available are either very expensive, or not ready for mass market.
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Jagpreet is a specialist in digital communication and creative writing. During her career, she has produced a wide range of content including blogs, articles, case studies, brochures, user manuals, and other creative assets. She has a keen interest in solar and envisions a bright future where all our energy comes from renewable resources.