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Could solar be the next frontier for electric cars? Toyota begins testing solar-powered Prius

Significant improvements in solar panel technology has the Prius' solar panels generating almost 1kW of power.

A Toyota Prius that can run using the power of the sun has been developed in conjunction with technology company Sharp, and it's due to begin testing on Japanese roads this year.

The 2019 Toyota Prius is already available adorned with solar panels to help charge its battery pack, and this concept is not new - the brand has developed a solar-equipped Prius “PHV” (photovoltaic hybrid vehicle) in the past. But significant developments in solar panel efficiency in recent times have allowed this new solar-powered version to significantly increase its electric-only range.

While the currently available in Japan Prius PHV has a solar power efficiency of 22.5 per cent, Toyota says the new “demo car” has an efficiency of 34 per cent or more, allowing it to generate almost five times the amount of electricity (around 860W) using the sun alone.

The solar-panel adorned Prius can boost its electric driving range by using the panels to power auxiliary systems while moving. The solar-panel adorned Prius can boost its electric driving range by using the panels to power auxiliary systems while moving.

What’s more is that Toyota has improved the solar panel charging technology so that it works both when the car is running, and when it is parked (the previous PHV could only gather power from the sun while it was parked).

The new demo car can store up to 44.5km of electric-only cruising range per day while it is parked and can boost that range to 56.3km when being driven, as the solar cells power all of the vehicles auxiliary systems on-the-go.

The alliance between Toyota, Sharp and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) in Japan is attempting to raise the solar cell efficiency to 1kW and create a “new solar battery panel market”.

The alliance says the list of benefits brought by solar panels on battery electric vehicles includes a marked increase in fuel efficiency, lower emissions, an increase in electric cruising range and a reduction in the time taken to charge.

While Toyota hopes to create a solar panel market with the tech, it is also invested in hydrogen drive technologies. While Toyota hopes to create a solar panel market with the tech, it is also invested in hydrogen drive technologies.

There are other brands looking to use the sun to power their cars - Lightyear, a Dutch start-up, is set to launch a new solar-powered electric car in 2020 - the inventively named Lightyear One.

The One is claimed to offer a 725km driving range under the WLTP test cycle, and features five square metres of solar panels built into the roof and bonnet. Lightyear claims 12km can be added to the car’s range each hour, purely by way of sunlight.

Do you see solar panels fitting into the future of electric vehicles? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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