It’s time the car companies went solar

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report Solar Power.

As the UK's first solar panel-assisted charge point for electric vehicles prepares to open, solar vehicle driver Louis Palmer argues that solar taxis could offer a cheaper and greener alternative to electric cars.

Louis Palmer is a Swiss teacher who drove a solar-charged vehicle through 38 countries for 18 months. His battery-operated 'Solar Taxi' – a two-seated car with an array of 12 solar panels behind it – can travel for 300 km on a single charge and reach speeds of 90 km/h. 

"The most amazing thing I discovered on my solar taxi world tour was how much the whole world wants solar energy. Everywhere I went, I received only welcomes and positive reactions. No matter where I was, people immediately realised the importance of a car that runs without petrol, and could potentially make such a huge difference to all our lives! It was a great motivator.

So many celebrities, VIPs and leaders also expressed their interest and sympathy for what I was doing. They wished me all the best and then…I never heard from them again. Two automobile producers also invited me to give them a presentation about the solar taxi. The American manufacturer was very open to learning about the issues. I had a great time with them.                                                                   

By contrast, the European car manufacturer was nice, but sceptical. At the end, the company representative said: 'So what if your car went around the world without a breakdown? You know, if we wanted to build this car, it will have to go around the world three times without a breakdown.' Luckily, that producer announced the production of electric cars three months later.

Smart car manufacturers know that they had to spend dozens of millions of euros to develop and mass produce an electric vehicle. But because the automobile industry is one of the most conservative industries in the world, they tend to err on the safe side – or better, find a reason not to do anything. So they say that mass producing a solar vehicle would require billions of euros of investment. And that's too much. So they leave it.

But I am convinced that a solar-charged car could be mass-manufactured for a retail price of only €15,000. If just one percent of people bought it, that would be a market of over 100,000 vehicles per year in Europe alone.

I know so many people who are refusing to buy a car because they don't agree with using petrol. They would be ready to pay €15,000 for a clean vehicle – but not the €35,000 that a conventional electric car will cost. And unlike conventional electric cars, which run on coal and gas-fired electricity, solar-charged vehicles would emit no CO2 at all.

The discount involved in powering a solar-charged vehicle would make it an even more attractive buy. A 1.5 Kilowatt hour (kWh) solar array for your car's roof would cost €3,500 and produce enough electricity to travel between 10,000 and 15,000 km a year. After the initial payment, you would not have to visit a petrol station for the next 40 years! Great!

This is what people have to learn and understand. Solar-powered electric vehicles offer a great financial benefit."

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