|Despite the market for solar technologies being limited to advanced roof solutions that use solar cells to ventilate vehicle interiors, technological advancements will soon shift the focus from comfort and convenience to powertrain applications and similar domains. Corresponding to expanding applications, solar cell costs are expected to fall - more average customers can look forward to a 'greener,' less-polluting vehicle. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that a sunroof panel with solar cells can generate sufficient power to ventilate the vehicle interior. The technologies covered in this research service are polysilicon solar cells, thin-film solar cells and third-generation solar cells.
The automotive industry is undergoing an evolution wherein traditional internal combustion (IC) engines are yielding to battery-powered motors. Growing interest in zero-emission vehicles, increased government spending on electric vehicles (EVs), and the numerous vehicle prototypes already in the pipeline point irrefutably towards a future dominated by EVs. Nevertheless, EVs face lingering criticism regarding increased energy consumption. One compelling solution is to run EVs on power generated by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. EVs of the future could be powered by electricity from a grid generated by solar power, or else at solar charging stations. Currently, solar cells are not preferred because of their high cost to power ratio. However, this ratio is likely to lessen as a result of technological advancements, rendering it more affordable for vehicle manufacturers.
"Solar cells are poised to achieve grid parity in the coming years," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Roshan Devadoss. "Subsequently, solar cells costs will plummet, making them affordable for automotive applications." Grid parity occurs when the cost of electricity generated using solar cells equals the cost of that generated using fossil or nuclear fuels. Upon reaching grid parity, solar cells will cease to be cost-intensive, leading to inexpensive automotive solutions. One of the biggest restraints for the use of solar panels in automotive applications is added weight. Polysilicon solar panels are heavy and exert a drag on the vehicle, reducing the range and life of the battery in electric or hybrid vehicles and decreasing the fuel-efficiency in conventional cars. Polysilicon solar panels increase vehicle weight, resulting in higher operational costs. Apart from polysilicon cells, the only other commercially available solution is thin-film solar cells, which have caught the attention of vehicle manufacturers' owing to their flexibility and light-weightiness. Vehicle manufacturers have developed concept vehicles with this technology and some of them are working towards production models. One disadvantage of this technology is its low efficiency. However, mounting the thin-film solar cells is not design intensive due to its flexibility and can be used to cover larger surface areas to compensate for the drop in efficiency. R & D has led to lighter, more flexible and robust thin film technologies and third generation solar cells, however they are less efficient than polysilicon solar cells.
Vehicle manufactures are already investigating the use of thin-film technologies that are commercially available for advanced roof solutions and have developed concept vehicles using them. Third-generation solar cells are currently under development and will likely be deployed in the interior of the vehicle as well as on the roofs, doors and windows.