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New study tests the potential of solar-powered vehicles in cities

Researchers from the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon in Portugal have explored – and measured –  the benefits of incorporating solar panels into cars in different parts of the world.

They used modelling to examine how the specific urban design of 100 different cities would impact the effectiveness of solar panels on cars travelling through them, finding that solar energy provides a range between 11 and 29 km per day, reducing charging needs by half.

In urban environments, solar-powered vehicles (aka vehicle-integrated photovoltaics – VIPV) are dependent not only on the amount of sun that the city usually enjoys ,but the amount of it that can reach street level.

A simplified geometric model for an urban landscape was used to assess the urban potential for solar-powered vehicles in 100 cities around the world considering local height-to-width average ratio, street orientation, diffuse and direct hourly irradiance and typical vehicle distance travelled.

Results show that solar-powered vehicles have a relevant extended driving range across the world, especially in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and most of the United States. Even in less favourable geographies, however, solar-powered vehicles can have a relevant impact in reducing the charging frequency and lowering operational costs.

Miguel Centeno Brito, from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, said: ‘Cities are today the main market for electric vehicles and, due to the relatively small travelled distances, are particularly interesting for solar-powered vehicles. However, in urban areas, we have buildings, trees and other obstacles casting shadows onto the roads thus limiting the solar potential of driving or parked vehicles. The purpose of the work was to assess if the impact of these shadows is a significant limitation to the potential of solar cars.’

‘Our results can help establish a roadmap for policymakers and the automotive industry to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly urban future.’

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