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The Reason We Don't Have Solar-Powered Cars Yet
Companies like Mercedes-Benz (with its concept Vision EQXX) and Hyundai (with its hybrid Sonata) are leveraging solar cells embedded in the roofs of modern all-electric vehicles — but they are simply giving the battery a boost, not powering the full ride. Despite 173 trillion kilowatts of power hitting Earth every hour, solar-powered cars are still far from being a reality.
According to Engineering Explained, if a vehicle's roof was equipped with solar cells, it would only realistically produce around 1.5 kilowatts of power — enabling the vehicle to drive endlessly at a maximum speed of just 12 miles per hour. At that rate, the battery would take 8.3 days (200 hours) to fully charge if parked in perfect sun conditions.
Only 55% of the energy from the sun makes it to the Earth's surface; the rest is lost, reflected, or absorbed by the atmosphere. In 2022, solar panel efficiency ranges from 20% to 25% max — while other factors such as nighttime, cloud coverage, and equator or pole inclinations can dramatically affect power generation.
Conversion efficiency is the percentage of solar energy that is converted into usable electricity after shining on a device. Although a study reveals that there have been notable improvements since 1941 — when solar panels had a 1% energy efficiency — solar-powered cars won’t become a reality until major breakthroughs are achieved.