Panasonic Corp. wants to put more solar panels of the rooftops of cars. The electronics company based in Osaka is producing an 180-watt solar array which can be attached to the roof of a car. Panasonic announced in February that its photovoltaic module would be employed on the roofs of Toyota’s latest Prius plug-in hybrids.
Chinese manufacturers of solar cells are dominating the industry right now, but cars represent a potentially lucrative section of the market yet to be capitalized on.
“Car roofs have the potential to become a new market for solar panels,” said the general manager at Panasonic, Shingo Okamoto. “We made history in the auto industry and in the solar industry with the sun powering mass-produced cars for the first time in the world.”
Panasonic has partnered with Tesla Inc. to produce batteries at its Gigafactory just outside of Las Vegas, but now cars could be a new market for them. There are over 264 million cars and light trucks across the US, so Panasonic has plenty of opportunities to sell.
“That means you get about 10 percent of annual mileage from solar just by letting your car sit,” said Okamoto.
That may not seem like much, but the amount of charge a panel will produce will improve over time and the range can be extended simply by adjusting a car’s body design and upping the amount of surface a panel could be affixed to.
“We are aware that the panels are supplying only a small amount of electricity,” said Prius’ chief engineer, Shoichi Kaneko. “But this system is still a breakthrough as we are making use of the energy we would be wasting otherwise. By filling all available space with cells, it is possible to extend the range easily to 10 kilometers.”
Solar rooftops, in their current form, represent a large step forward for Toyota as it wants to cut its carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by a full 90% by 2050 down from its levels in 2010.
This is not the first time Toyota has attempted to put a solar roof on a Prius. A Prius was released back in 2009 which had the option to use a solar panel, but it could only produce 56 watts of power to charge the ventilation systems.
In creating panels for the new Prius, Panasonic engineers began compiling a list of various conditions they thought the panels would face when attached to a car roof. The list included vibration, shadows, and a limited amount of space.
However, not everyone is convinced that solar panels on cars are a good idea.
“You’ll see panels become more common as an option, particularly on high-end electric sedans and SUVs,” said analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Colin McKerracher. “But the range benefits are always going to be limited. This is mostly about feeling smug.”