How Sono, Aptera and Lightyear are making solar-powered electric vehicles a reality

The world’s first commercial solar electric vehicles will appear in the US and European markets over the next few years. German company Sono enginesSouthern California-based Aptera Motors and Dutch company Lightyear all produce electric vehicles with integrated solar panels that can harness the sun’s power to go about 15 to 45 extra miles on a clear day.

These vehicles also have regular lithium-based batteries that can be recharged using electricity from the grid, so these cars essentially function like a conventional electric vehicle for longer journeys. But for commuters and other short-distance drivers, the majority of their kilometers could be fueled almost entirely by the sun for free.

Dan Kammen, a professor of energy at UC Berkeley, said he believes this technology will make financial sense for many consumers.

“Solar panels are so cheap and integrating them into the skins is so easy that after that initial learning curve, those first few thousand vehicles out there, I have a hard time imagining that it won’t be cost effective,” said Kammen.

The cars come onto the market

The Sono Sion, which is expected to be produced in Europe in mid-2023, will start at $25,000. Its battery has a range of 190 miles, and although the car also has 465 integrated solar half-cells on the outside, the boxy five-seater hatchback feels unassuming and practical.

“So this car gives you 5,700 miles a year for free, you know, for free because it comes from the sun. That’s about 15 miles per day, which is perfect for commuting,” said Sono Motors co-CEO and co-founder Laurin Hahn. He said that when the Sion hits the US market, it will be an ideal second vehicle.

Production of the Sono Sion in Europe is scheduled to begin in mid-2023. According to the company, there are already 42,000 reservations for the vehicle.

Sono engines

Externally, Aptera’s vehicle is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Sono’s. Aptera’s nimble tricycle seats two, has motors in the wheels for more efficiency, and is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. Production is slated to begin next year in the US.

“When you start with aerodynamics as the basis for your vehicle, you end up with something that looks very different from anything else on the road. I mean, our vehicle looks more like a bird or a fish than almost anything else on the road today,” said Chris Anthony, CEO of Aptera.

Production of Aptera Motors’ solar-electric two-seater is slated to begin next year in Carlsbad, California. The company says there are 37,000 pre-orders for the vehicle.

Aptera engines

Depending on the range and other optional features, the Aptera will cost between $26,000 and $48,000. Due to its light weight, Aptera’s premium model has a lithium-ion battery with a range of 1,000 miles. Its base model has a range of 250 miles, ahead of the 30 miles from the sun that Anthony said you’ll get on an average day in Southern California.

Then there’s the Lightyear 0, which is expected to hit the streets in Europe later this year. Like Aptera, the Lightyear features in-wheel engines and is designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind. But while the vehicle’s body is sleek, the Lightyear seats five and looks a lot more like a typical car. Its lithium-ion battery gets 390 miles per charge, averaging about 20 extra miles from the sun, up to nearly 45 miles.

The Lightyear 0 is expected to hit the streets in Europe later this year. A mass-market vehicle, the Lightyear 2, is expected sometime in 2025.

light year

“A lot of the reasons people don’t switch to electric vehicles are for charging and range, and they’re not on the same par as a ICE car today,” said Lex Hoefsloot, CEO of Lightyear. He said the company is targeting customers who would not normally have considered buying an electric vehicle. “So we’re going to a level where you actually have to fill up less than you would have to fill up with a combustion car.”

The Lightyear 0 will cost a whopping $250,000, but Hoefsloot said that’s because the original model is a limited edition. When production scales and the Lightyear 2 hit the market in 2025, Hoefsloot says it will cost $30,000.

The future of solar electric cars

It may be a while before we see other automakers adding solar to their electric vehicles, although simply attaching solar panels to many larger, heavier vehicles may not provide enough power to justify the additional cost, small as it may be .

Today, when it comes to building electric cars, manufacturers have gone for a lazy man, where they put a bigger battery if they want more range,” Hoefsloot said. “And more and more manufacturers are beginning to realize that the larger battery will still remain very expensive into the future. So efficiency is really the way to increase that range without having to pay for a big battery.

Because top-of-the-line solar panels are only about 22% efficient and the small surface area of ​​these cars limits the number of panels they can have, these first-generation solar electric cars do not support long-distance driving. But as technologies like solar glass improve, which can turn windows into solar panels, Kammen sees a future where it’s possible to drive 80 or 100 miles on solar power alone.

“It really builds on this idea that when we electrify transport, we’re not really going to put a strain on the grid,” he said. “More vehicles themselves can always be more autonomous. And in the end I think we will sell electricity from our solar cars back to the grid.”

Watch the video to learn more about the companies making solar cars a reality.

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