The Self - Sufficient Automobile: Is it really possible?
Updated: Mar 21
The typical EV uses a lithium - ion battery with varying recharge times depending on the manufacturer. These somewhat inconvenient recharge times combind with a limited range compared to combustion vehicles have resulted in hesitancy when ‘switching to electric. Attempting to tackle this very issue, Aptera have developed the first solar electric vehicle. They claim that the vehicle will require no charging for most daily use, as it will have the ability to harness the sun’s energy while operating. One does wonder though, considering the challenges that come with solar technology, will this simply be another niche vehicle unable to compete with the benefits combustion vehicles have to offer?
When it comes to competing with a combustion engine, one must look at the efficiency of an EV. It is, in a way, the electric analog to a vehicle’s fuel economy. The Tesla Model 3 is regarded as relatively efficient, using around 250 watt - hours to travel 1 mile. Aptera claims to only use 100 watt - hours to travel the same distance, smashing the previous figure. That type of efficiency would allow an EV to make the long road trips that previously were impossible due to the lack of infrastructure in some parts of the country (United States). All that being said, it is important to consider a few features unique to the Aptera Electric Car that may explain this efficiency. The incredibly lightweight chassis only uses three wheels and can support two passengers, as opposed to the larger Model 3. Although Aptera provides an incredible range of up to a 1000 miles (using a 100 kWh battery), does the potential inconvenience with size and structure outweigh the benefit?
The Aptera Electric Car
So far, I have mentioned Aptera’s incredible efficiency and a potential drawback of the physical structure itself, however the vehicle’s solar technology is yet to be analyzed. Every model comes with a 300 - watt solar panel on the roof, which can be increased to a total of 700 - watts for an additional $900. According to Aptera, the 700 - watt configuration can produce a range upto 48 miles/day (around 9,000 miles per year depending on the location). The average car is driven around 29 miles/day, well under the figure that Aptera claims is created by solar panels. Well, in that case, are we actually looking at a never - charging self sufficient vehicle?
Not exactly. Solar Panel technology has complications and considerations that are far above my level of understanding, however there are still some basic caveats I will list here. Solar Panels are most efficient when directly facing the source of light. It is the main reason that solar tracking devices exist, as they have the ability to follow the sun while it changes position over the course of a day. Given that Aptera does not offer a solar panel configuration that directly faces the sun (except at midday when the sun is directly above), harnessed energy will almost never be maximized. Let's also talk about parking. If looking to charge their vehicle when not out on the roads, users cannot expect ideal results if parked inside, in shade, or facing away from sun rays. Ultimately, it is safe to say that unless one is in the most ideal of circumstances, 48 miles/day is an unreasonable figure to expect when it comes to the range a solar panel can provide on top of a vehicle.
All that being said, I believe Aptera’s innovations are a huge step forward in the automotive industry. While the model as it stands may not necessarily provide the perfect alternative to a combustion vehicle or even other electrics, it has the potential to transform into the future of the industry: a vehicle capable of satisfying the average person’s needs and entirely paid for by the sun.