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Solely Solar Powered Driving

How far can solar power drive you?

By David BrandyPublished 3 years ago 3 min read

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I love Audible. Anyone who has known me for a little longer knows that I LOVE "The Martian" on Audible. Andy Weir could not have written a better story about a lone astronaut stranded on the red planet and R.C. Bray just plain had a perfect performance. Although there was something in particular that stood out to me that I would like to dig deeper into.

At one point in the story, the main character Mark Watney has to drive a long distance on Mars. The vehicle he has to do it in is an electric Mars rover that he charges in transit with solar panels. This makes me wonder. Would this mode of transit be useful on Earth? What is possible with an EV(Electric Vehicle) and only solar panels? I want to know if someone could use this vehicle as a daily driver. Then, how feasible is it for a long-distance drive?

Could you use this vehicle as a daily driver?

First, we need to pick a car. Based on the March 15th, 2021 KBB article the Tesla Model S has the longest range of 373 Miles with a long-range of 412 Miles. So we will be going with this beauty.

Now that we have the EV picked out it is time to see what we need from it, unfortunately, this is not easy. Daily driving distances range wildly from state to state and person to person. So, let's work backward. What if we slapped a single solar panel to the roof and see how far we could drive in a day?

After a lot of searching, it looks like a 5 foot by 3.5 foot panel will have an output of roughly 300 watts an hour of daylight. Again we run into another roadblock, how much sunlight is there everyday? This again ranges widely and this would be a very long article if I calculated for every single city on the planet. We will have to bite the bullet and put a number on this, 13 hours.

With a best-case scenario of 13 hours of full sunlight, the panel will generate 3,900 watts or 3.9 kilowatt-hours. To translate kWh to miles driven we need to know how far the Model S can drive on a single kWh. The Tesla's battery has a 100 kWh capacity and a 412 long range so that works out to 4.12 miles per kWh. That number multiplied by the kWh created by the panel of 3.9 equals just over 16 miles.

So if you only had to drive 16 miles a day, and were willing to bolt a massive solar panel to the top of your luxury $70k EV, this could work out. If you had to go further though, you would need more of well, everything.

Could you use this vehicle for long distances?

The short answer... Yes. The long answer? Well, let's see. First of all, let's go to the happiest place on Earth. Then, again. Let me explain.

I am not sure why when I thought "cross-country" my brain went to "Disney to Disney" but here we are. We have 2,500 miles ahead of us, so let's get rolling.

In the book, Mark would charge in the brightest time of the Sol or a Mars-day. He didn't bolt a panel to the roof of his rover. He took a bunch of solar panels with him and laid them on the ground to charge during the Sol. There was also a box of pure radiation involved that generated some of his power, but that is beside the point.

Let's take a page out of his book and do the same. Time to become nocturnal. If someone would charge for the entire day with a bunch of solar panels and then drive through the night, how long would the drive take?

How many solar panels would it take to charge the battery 100% in a day It's 25 and a half, 26 to be safe. Not to skip over the super exciting math, but this number is based on the production of our car roof solar panel from earlier.

At the rate of a full charge a day, and a range of 412 miles a night. Our 2,500 mile journey takes us 6 days. This means that you could spend a weekend in Disney World, then make it with time to spare to Disney Land to spend the next weekend!

Granted this does not account for aerodynamics, the weight of the panels, or even where to store the 26 of them while driving, but it is still a fun thought. How far can we take a solar-charged car? What other renewable sources of energy should we be looking at? Toyota is currently working on a hydrogen-fueled vehicle that looks fantastic. Maybe I will be able to talk about it in a future article!

So here's to clear skies and full batteries! Happy charging!


About the Creator

David Brandy

My very first story crafting was an imaginary game that me and my two younger brothers would play when I was 12. My love of storytelling manifested itself quickly. Today I am a husband, father, and business owner.

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    David BrandyWritten by David Brandy

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