Panasonic believes more electric vehicles could benefit from implementing solar panels on their roofs.
The Japanese tech giant already provides the solar panel roof for the Toyota Prius Prime, which is the first automotive solar application that sources energy to the vehicle’s battery pack. Toyota says it’s only good for an additional 1.8- to 3.7-miles of driving range per charge, but that can work out to 10 percent of your total driving range over an annual period.
“Car roofs have the potential to become a new market for solar panels,” Panasonic’s Shingo Okamoto told Bloomberg. “We made history in the auto industry and in the solar industry with the sun powering mass-produced cars for the first time in the world.”
Nissan offers an optional roof-mounted solar panel on its Leaf EV, but it’s not powerful enough to provide charge to the battery. Instead, it helps power in-car electronics such as the climate control and infotainment system. The Prius Prime’s photovoltaic roof can charge the battery itself – a breakthrough both Toyota and Panasonic are hoping will lead to the more widespread use of the tech going forward.
While solar cells provide minimal gains right now, they may one day be able to have more of an impact on vehicle charging as the technology improves. Furthermore, automakers could design a vehicle’s body from the outset to wear solar panels, allowing them to maximize the number of cells for greater effect.
“We are aware that the panels are supplying only a small amount of electricity,” Prius engineer Shoichi Kaneko said. “But this system is still a breakthrough as we are making use of the energy we would be wasting otherwise.”