The Rise of the Solar Powered Transport

In the five years there has been a marked increase in the incorporation of solar power into difference types of transport and vehicles. This is a trend that is expected to continue in the future as a growing number of people become more environmentally conscious and solar technology becomes less expensive.

Definition of Solar Vehicles

Solar vehicles are defined as being on that is powered completely or significantly utilizing solar energy. These vehicles typically utilize what are known as photovoltaic or PV cells. PV cells are contained in solar panels and convert the sun’s energy directly into electric power. 

The term “solar vehicle” typically means that solar energy is utilized to power a vehicle’s propulsion. In addition, solar power can be used to power communications, controls, and auxiliary functions.

At this juncture, solar vehicles are primarily demonstration vehicles. With that noted, what are called “indirectly solar-charged vehicles” are widespread. In addition, solar boats commercially are available.

Solar Cars

Solar cars rely upon PC cells to convert sunlight into electricity. The electricity in turn drives electric motors. Currently, design of a solar car is significantly restricted because of the amount of energy input from the sun into electricity to operate the motor. 

As of this point in time, even the best solar cells have limitations when it comes to collecting power utilizing the surface of a car. Therefore, solar cars currently in operation have ultralight composite bodies to reduce weight. Moreover, because of these design limitations, solar cars lack the safety as well as convenience features associated with conventional vehicles. 

The first solar family car was built in 2013. The vehicle was constructed by students in the Netherlands. This particular solar car is capable of traveling 550 miles on one charge when operated in the sunlight. The car weighs 850 pounds and comes complete with a 1.5kw solar array. The Dutch government and others in the Netherlands are working to commercialize the vehicle. 

Solar Powered Public Transport

There has been significant work done in regard to advancing solar powered public transport. Solar buses are prime examples of what is being done in this regard. 

Solar buses are propulsed using solar energy. All or part of the solar energy is collected via stationary solar panel installations on the bus. An example of a solar bus is the Tindo, which is 100% solar powered. It is used as free public transport in Adelaide City in Australia and is an initiative of the community’s city government.

Buses that a partially powered by solar energy also have solar panels installed on the roof. These panels are intended to reduce energy consumption and prolong the usability of a charged battery. These types of buses are in growing use in China. 

These types of solar buses are distinguished from conventional buses in which certain functions, but not propulsion, are powered by solar energy. These types of buses in which systems, but not propulsion, are powered by solar energy are in existence and operation in a number of U.S. states. 

Solar Powered Boats

As mentioned previously, solar powered boats are available around the world at this time. Currently, these are smaller water craft intended for recreational use. With that said, the application of solar energy to boats is likely to expand more broadly during the coming decade.

Solar Energy and Light Rail Trains

Many public transportation systems in the United States and elsewhere rely on what are called light rail trains. These essentially are subway-like trains that operate above ground. Light rail trains have been widely utilized in different cities in the United States for the past three decades. 

These trains are beginning to incorporate solar energy into their systems in some locations. By this it is meant that solar panels are being incorporated into the overall power grid that supplies these trains. In other words, currently solar power is adding to the electricity that powers these trains, but is not the primary source of energy for operation. In addition, some public transport light rail trains do obtain at least some of their electricity from distant solar energy farms which feed into the overall electrical grid. 

Research is expected to continue apace into ways in which solar energy can be more broadly incorporated into different transportation alternatives. The net effect of this movement ultimately will be cheaper and cleaner vehicles of different types. Finally, expect more aggressive efforts in the incorporation of solar energy into public transportation systems in many countries around the world, including in the United States.

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., a leading steel tubing suppliers of carbon, alloy and stainless steel pipe, tubes, fittings and flanges.

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