A Dutch startup is planning to bring a completely solar-powered electric car to market, which could theoretically let some drivers go for months without plugging it in.
The ne plus ultra of electric cars might be in the works, thanks to a team of alumni from Solar Team Eindhoven, which has been developing prototypes of 4-seater solar family cars for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge since 2012. The startup Lightyear promises to combine onboard solar cells with an efficient battery pack and an optimized design to deliver a road legal 4-seat electric car that can charge itself from sunlight. We've heard claims like this before, but have yet to see one of these electric unicorns fully come to life, other than as entries into events such as the World Solar Challenge.
According to the company, its Lightyear One model will not only be capable of driving between 400 and 800 kilometers (~248 to 497 miles) per charge, but also "In sunny conditions it can drive for months without charging." Those are both bold claims, and ones that are difficult to prove or disprove without real-world public testing, but if the team can indeed pull off this feat, the future of electric driving looks to be quite sunny.
The company makes the case that electric cars have "a scaling problem," as only a small percentage (3%) of the world’s population has easy access to a public charging spot nearby them, and "is therefore dependent on third parties to build the infrastructure for them to be able to use an electric car." Lightyear's solution is to build an electric vehicle that "works anywhere."
"Lightyear’s solution is straightforward. What if cars can be charged by what is already available almost everywhere in the world? Regular, household powerplugs and the sun. Even in countries like India, over 80% of the people already have access to both these." - Lightyear
"Why is this mission so important? Solar powered cars solve the difficult chicken and egg problem that electric cars face before being introduced into a country. Since a solar powered vehicle does not need a charging infrastructure, it will make the concept of electric cars extremely scalable." - Lightyear
As far as the specs and details of the Lightyear One go, the facts are still rather scarce, but the company states that the vehicle can be charged in four different ways -- solar, a standard household outlet, a standard EV charger, or an EV fast charger. According to the FAQ, one hour's worth of charging on a residential outlet (3.7 kW) will net the driver about 40 kilometers of range, or 100 km on a standard 10 kW EV charger, or up to 850 km on a 75 kW fast charger. In addition, the car could be used as a power source for a home or other application, with the solar cells and battery functioning as a micro solar plant.
"You can think of the Lightyear One as being as an electric car redesigned from the ground up to combine the best of solar cars and electric cars. It’s a revolutionary step forward in electric mobility because we are able to combine a great look with extreme efficiency. This first model makes science fiction become reality: cars powered using just the sun." - Lex Hoefsloot, CEO of Lightyear
The vehicle, at least at this point, will not be a mass production car, and will have a limited run of just 10 cars in 2019, and 100 cars in 2020. The price has been set at €119.000 (~$135,000 US), and units can be reserved with a refundable deposit of €19.000. That's not exactly chump change, considering that many of the model options from the current electric car gorilla Tesla can be purchased for about half that amount, but then again, the four-wheel-drive Lightyear One aims to be a completely different kind of machine -- one that can charge itself via integrated solar cells. Assuming a buyer lives in a sunny region, and that the car can indeed deliver about 500 miles per charge, this solar EV may very well enable a whole new kind of driving experience, by allowing the charging cord to be 'cut'.