transport

The Lightyear One and the future of solar cars

The holy grail of clean car transport is the self-charging solar car. I’ve been following their development for a couple of years now, and when I first started looking into it there was nothing but prototypes and ideas. Then we got the Sion, clad on every side with solar panels. And now there’s this, the Lightyear One, which my children have already decided should be our next family car.

Unveiled at sunrise a couple of weeks ago, the Lightyear One is the first commercial car from the company Lightyear, based in the Netherlands. The engineers are previous winners of the World Solar Challenge in Australia, and they have brought their experience in highly efficient vehicles to their new venture.

The car will has an impressive 725 km range, and can charge in the sun or from a cable. In the summer months at least, there would be no need to plug it in at all for most daily use. For countries with more sunshine, solar vehicles offer electric transport now, without waiting for charging infrastructure. If commentators such as Chris Goodall are right about solar being the dominant form of energy for the majority of the world, minus the North, solar cars could eventually be a common technology across Africa and Asia.

This one’s not headed for Africa however. And at £132,000 for delivery in 2021, my kids are not going to get one on the driveway anytime soon either, because this is another cutting edge technology pitched at the richest. This is the Tesla model – aim for the luxury market and work downwards. It’s worked for them, others are following the same idea, and I can see how it makes sense for start-ups who are going to struggle to finance mass production early on.

Nevertheless, it is disappointing that the cleanest cars are often luxury options. As I’ve described before, this isn’t how it’s panning out in India and China. There, electric mobility has started at the bottom with buses, scooters and three-wheelers. So there’s nothing inevitable about this. What’s different, presumably, is the involvement of the established car companies that control the market in places such as Britain. Until they take a risk on mass market electric vehicles, families like mine will have to be patient.

3 comments

  1. Although I agree with you about solar cars I do feel that it is time for a better public transport infrastructure. What I don’t agree with is purely electric cars. I don’t think the grid in the UK could cope and up here in Scotland distances are so much greater. Interesting times though. I’m walking more too. Better all round! 🙂

    1. Agreed, public transport and walking are the real priorities!

      The grid is an obvious point to consider, but National Grid have welcomed the shift to electric cars. We will need more capacity, but that will be offset by efficiency measures elsewhere and the build-out of renewable energy will pick up the slack. Scotland is leading on that already. The National Grid are the people best placed to know how feasible electric cars are, and they’re certainly not panicking. Of course, the more solar self-charging cars there are, the easier it becomes to complete the transition.

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