Bloomberg’s Hyperdrive Comments on Solar
This is a clip from their daily blog:
The quest to develop a solar-powered car that is at once functional, useful and practical has stumped more than the young wizards at MIT. In February, Sono Group said it would abandon its Sion solar-electric car after failing to raise enough money for the project. A month earlier, Dutch startup Lightyear suspended production of its €250,000 ($264,450) solar car and filed for bankruptcy. (Both declined interviews for this piece.)
California’s Aptera Motors, while happy with its three-wheeled solar-powered machine, has struggled to complete a crowdfunding campaign to get it into production.
For about 40 years, car companies, startups and DIY enthusiasts have been pursuing the plug-less electric car, one that could wirelessly recharge via photons. But as logistical and economic hurdles continue to stymie those projects, the more immediate future of solar-powered vehicles is becoming clear: smaller, lighter, cheaper systems built to subtly augment electric driving, rather than power it in full. This practical approach is the dad jeans of solar driving, and in a couple of years it could be everywhere.
But the impracticalities aren’t stopping companies from continuing to try; after all, the sun is hard to ignore and it never stops showing up. The next American Solar Challenge takes place in June, and Aptera is one of several startups still working to get a sun-powered passenger car over the financing finish line.
Instead of trying to maximize the size of the car’s solar array, Aptera set out to minimize the car itself. Its vehicle approximates a silicon-skinned tadpole; even the doors scissor open like gills. The Aptera is 36% lighter than a Toyota Prius, 38% more aerodynamic than a Tesla Model S and cuts down on rolling resistance by using three wheels instead of four.
As a result, Aptera’s whip can squeeze about 40 miles out of a day’s sun, slightly more than the 31 miles a day covered by the average US driver.
“It’s really just a math equation,” says Chris Anthony, Aptera’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “Turns out, we could come up with a really compelling formula and solution.”
When Anthony started cobbling the Aptera together about a decade ago, solar panels were half as efficient as they are today, and electric motors and lithium-ion batteries were prohibitively expensive. Today, Aptera is free-riding on the billions of R&D dollars that the auto industry sunk into electrification in recent years.
Still, the sun is slow-charging at best. Topping up the Aptera rig solely from its roof array takes about a week, though the car can also be plugged in. And Aptera is nowhere near road-ready, at least not at scale.
The company is currently pitching its prototype to investors, hoping to land a check big enough to produce the vehicle en masse.
Meanwhile, most Americans don’t want to sacrifice size and comfort for sustainability on the road; they want “rolling houses,” Anthony says.
But Aptera doesn’t need most Americans to buy its vehicle; it just needs a few, and the 42,000 who have already ordered one are a start.
As the market for solar-powered driving continues to evolve, one thing that hasn’t changed is Anthony’s sales pitch: “You get all the fuel from the giant nuclear power plant in the sky.” — By Kyle Stock