Piston Slap: Can you solar charge an electric car? Should you?
I read your article and comments on solar charging for parasitic draw and was wondering if that same technique would help with an EV. I don’t know about anyone else but my vehicle normally sat at work for 8-10 hours Mon.-Fri. Could that time be used for a little solar charging? Thanks for the good reading!
Wow, what a question! It certainly brings a nostalgic twinge to my soul, as I was once a mechanical engineering student with a tangential connection to my college’s solar vehicle team. I would have dug deeper into that world, was it not for the personality conflicts. Then again, what I experienced in the college of engineering is fantastic training for how engineers have to work in the real world of automobiles. Welcome to the jungle…but I digress.
Back to your question: there is no easy solar charging solution like the ones we saw in our last installment to keep a 12-volt car battery topped up. While you could, you likely shouldn’t for these reasons. Sad, but true as the technology isn’t there (yet?).
Even the folks at Lightyear say their solar powered car can only add a maximum of “70 kilometers of range per day from the sun alone.” That’s the maximum charge possible, on a vehicle designed to prioritize efficiency. I have concerns that Lightyear’s aerodynamic wonder might not meet the safety and performance requirements we expect here in North America. You’d need a significant solar charging infrastructure to power a big-ol’ North American EV, so it’d be a false economy to not build it for your entire household instead.
But there’s still an easy answer, just not an affordable one like that 12-volt car battery: consult with a solar panel/battery backup installer in your area and get ready to fork over significant amounts of cash.
I will readily admit that my knowledge on this subject is lacking, but this study suggests you need “around 4,000 kWh of electricity per year to operate” your EV. You need to know the wattage produced by solar panels (that are readily available on the market) and the battery size (in KWh) of your car. From there, you can calculate the number of panels needed to keep the car charged. But that assumes perfect lighting conditions, and that your home won’t suck some of the juice away during the day.
Perhaps another route is to first consider these questions:
- Do you have enough space for all these panels?
- Will the panels get enough sunlight throughout the day to actually get the job done? What about in the wintertime?
- How many panels can you afford?
- Will you store extra juice with an in-home battery when you’re driving? (That could be a game changer for your needs.)
- Can you afford it, assuming you receive tax credits?
- Should you buy a Ford Lightning instead of an in-home battery? (Just kidding…maybe?)
Necessary aside: I fully expect to hear statements to the contrary, especially considering the cost and environmental benefits of the batteries used in this equation. Fair points to be sure, but if you’ve already spent the cash for an EV, going all in with solar charging at home diminishes the problematic elements. He’s already knee-deep in it, might as well dive all the way in!
I personally love the idea of home solar charging with a battery: I am hooked on the “thirsty” acceleration of cars like the Lucid Air, and the dynamics of the Porsche Taycan, and I was without power for days when Texas’ power grid collapsed. Solar would make life easier and reduce some “economy guilt” from jackrabbit starts using the 800+ horsepower available from top-dollar EVs. In theory at least, as I have yet to make the change to EV propulsion and I learned to cope without power and water for days.
But that’s just me. What say you, Hagerty Community?
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