Solar power on electric cars has yet to become a common feature, but Tesla is about to change that — starting with the Cybertruck electric pickup.
We’ve discussed solar roofs on electric vehicles before, most recently with the one on the latest Prius Prime, but the recurring problem is that they rarely generate enough power to be worth it.
For example, we estimated that the solar cells on the Prius Prime’s roof could generate enough power to add about 2 miles of range during the day. And of course, that’s highly dependent on where you are in the world and where you park your car.
However, solar power technology has been improving greatly, and it is increasingly starting to make more sense.
There are even startups, like Sono Motors and Lightyear, developing electric vehicles mainly powered through onboard solar power.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been looking into the idea for years.
In 2017, he said that he pushed his Tesla engineers to look into integrating solar cells on Model 3, but they concluded that it wasn’t worth it at the time.
Two years later, things have changed.
After the launch of the Cybertruck, Musk said that Tesla’s new electric pickup truck will have a solar roof option that will add 15 miles of range per day.
It’s the first time that a solar roof system has been confirmed to be coming to a Tesla vehicle.
Tesla has yet to open the configurator for the Cybertruck and therefore, we don’t know the price or availability of the solar roof feature for the Cybertruck.
The automaker is aiming to release the Cybertruck in late 2021 and we expect to have more details about the options for the pickup truck by then.
I think this is going to be a game-changer and Tesla’s new “killer app,” so to speak.
Like a lot of new features that Tesla introduces, I believe Tesla is first going to launch it in the Cybertruck as a differentiating feature (not that Cybertruck needs more of those) and later leverage its experience with the solar roof to introduce it to other cars.
Cybertruck is ideal for the first vehicle to receive the product from Tesla since it has more surface area to embed solar cells and therefore, it’s easier to achieve more energy generation.
One of the problems with solar cars is making them look good with solar cells. I know not everyone cares about what a car looks like, but I can assure you that it is a big deal for a lot of people, especially in premium segments like Tesla vehicles.
Tesla is already building a lot of experience in making solar cells look good with its Solarglass roof tiles.
They can likely take some of the expertise working on Solarglass for the solar roof for cars.
Solarglass is not the only experience that will be useful to build the new feature. Tesla is also employing dozens of engineers who have experience working on solar cars as part of the popular Solar Car Challenges between engineering schools.
Once it’s deployed on Cybertruck, they will gain more experience with the feature, and as the efficiency of the solar cell improves, I believe that Tesla is going to start releasing the feature on other electric vehicles.
In conclusion, there have been other solar roof systems on cars before, but they have been more of a gimmick than anything else. I think Tesla is in a great position to take the feature to a whole new level — starting with the Cybertruck, but also with other vehicles afterward.
That said, I want to make it clear that if you are a homeowner and you want to power your electric vehicle with solar power, it’s still a better solution to have a solar array at home and charge your vehicle with that.
However, as electric vehicles become mainstream, more people who live in condos and apartments are buying them, and a solar power system on the car itself could be a good way for them to at least partly power their car with solar.
It’s also a fun feature to have for adventure vehicles like the Cybertruck and also a potentially very efficient feature to have for larger vehicles with a lot of surface, like Tesla Semi.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.
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