A Dutch company has debuted a solar powered electric vehicle (EV) that is capable of traveling up to 450 miles on a single charge. The Lightyear One was officially unveiled Tuesday, June 25th at an event in Katwijk, Southern Netherlands. The prototype was developed by a team hailing from Eindhoven University of Technology.
Lightyear, the company behind the car, was founded in 2016 by members of Solar Team Eindhoven. The team has won a number of solar-powered car races with what’s considered the world’s first family car powered by solar energy. The Lightyear aims to bring a road-ready solar vehicle to the consumer market.
Innovating for the Future
The Lightyear One can accommodate five adults, with about 28 cubic feet of storage space. The 16.5 square feet of solar panels -mounted on the roof and hood- provide the solar batteries with roughly 7.5 miles per hour of exposure to sun. While this may not seem too impressive, it can also be charged at regular EV stations. This includes 60 kW (fast-charging) which will charge the car up to 315 miles of range in an hour. It can also charge up to about 250 miles of range overnight with standard (European) 230V sockets.
The built in solar panels allow the car to charge while it’s stationary. Additionally, they provide a “boost” to power while in motion. During a four-hour drive, the Lightyear one is projected to collect nearly 31 miles worth of extra charge. If the drive pulls over for a pit stop or lunch, the vehicle will continue to charge! Exact range and mileage will vary depending on a number of factors including climate and driving frequency. However, the company estimates that someone driving the national average of 20,000 km (about 12.4k miles) per year “in the cloudy Netherlands” would get around 40 percent of their mileage from solar annually.
The amount of energy required to power a vehicle weighing upwards of one to two tons is a big challenge in developing solar vehicles. The nature and size of vehicles provide limited space for solar panels. Because of this, Lightyear has worked to optimize the car’s weight and structure, using aluminum and carbon fiber materials. They are also fine tuning aero-dynamics to reduce drag in an effort to lower energy consumption.
“Our job at the aerodynamics team is to ensure that the air will move along the curves of the car as smoothly as possible, because we stop the air from moving in swirls, into holes, or into interstices, we reduce friction between the car and the air. We want the car to cut through the air just like a raindrop – the ultimate example of an aerodynamic object.”
– Annemiek Koers, Aerodynamics Engineer at Lightyear.
The development of Lightyear One has been no secret. At the official unveiling on the 25th, the company announced that anyone can now reserve one of their cars for a fee of €119,000 ($135,000) – though the full price is actually €150,000 ($170,000). 100 units have already been reserved despite the 2021 release date. The company says that the cost reflects the novelty of the technology. They hope that future iterations will help bring the price tag down.
“Since new technology has a high unit cost, we have to start in an exclusive market,” Lightyear CEO and co-founder Lex Hoefsloot added. “Lightyear One is the first long-range solar car and has staggering specifications. The next models we plan to develop will have a significantly lower purchase price. In addition, future models will be provided to autonomous and shared car fleets, so the purchase price can be divided amongst a large group of users.”
The EV market is still small compared to petroleum and diesel, but it is growing. The cumulative EV sales hit the 4 million mark last year according to Bloomberg NEF. That doesn’t seem like much with over a billion cars globally, but the broader picture paints a promising trend. It took around five years to sell the first million electric cars and just a year and a half to shift the second million. Furthermore, it only took 6 months to pass 4 million electric vehicles sold after hitting the 3 million milestone.
Companies are starting to significantly invest into EV charging infrastructure, with fossil fuel giants like BP and Shell acquiring charging network providers. Additionally, efforts to develop infrastructure for charging vehicles as they move are being seen. For example, Sweden is developing “electrified roads”. While solar powered cars are not a new concept, they have yet to reach the commercial market at any scale. With a range of up to 450 miles, Lightyear hopes to accelerate the uptake of EVs globally – with solar energy as the draw – by alleviating one of the core sticking points for many would-be EV converts.
“The main goal of the car is to fill in where electric cars fall short,” Hoefsloot added. “Research has shown that range and the lack of charging options are still the top concerns that people have when considering electric cars. With Lightyear One, we want to show that our technology enabled us to build one of the most sustainable cars on the market, that also offers great convenience.”