The idea of sourcing electricity from solar energy to power and operate vehicles is nothing new. We have seen cars mounted with solar panels, but they don’t seem to look appealing and also appear to be bulky. Likewise, installing solar panels on a car might greatly reduce the vehicle’s aesthetic value. However, integrating solar cells into panoramic glass roofs could be a very good idea.
This is the strategy conceptualized by German premium carmaker Audi and Chinese partner Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Limited, as represented by American subsidiary Alta Devices. The endeavor – dubbed as the Audi/Hanergy Thin Film Solar Cell Research and Development Project -- plans to integrate Alta Devices’ thin-film solar cells into panoramic glass roofs of Audi’s electric vehicles, which mean that these models won't have to sacrifice aesthetics to gain an unlimited source of energy – unlike mounted solar panels. Interestingly, the project plans to cover almost the entire surface of the panoramic roof with solar cells.
Then, the electricity generated by these thin-film solar cells will be sent to the EV’s electrical system. This electricity could power up the vehicle’s air-conditioning system or even its seat heaters. As a result, the EVs become more efficient and experience a considerable increase in its electric range. To note, the integrated thin-film solar cells aren’t meant to fully power the whole vehicle, especially its propulsion system. Instead, the integrated thin-film solar cells are expected to extend the range of Audi’s EV.
At a later phase, electricity from the integrated thin-film solar cells is expected to directly recharge the traction battery. These innovative thin-film solar cells -- produced by Alta Devices in California -- are very thin and flexible, which means they could easily be integrated to the panoramic roof of Audi’s EV models. Boasting of an efficiency rate of more than 25 percent, these thin-film solar cells are known for their excellent performance even in high temperatures and low light conditions.
Bernd Martens, Audi Board of Management Member for Procurement, remarked that the German premium carmaker acknowledges the fact that the customers consider range as one of the decisive factors in purchasing electrics cars. He said that Audi plans to sustainably extend the range of its EVs by installing groundbreaking solar technology, which is meant to be achieved by partnering with Hanergy. Martens noted that this project would be a milestone in achieving sustainable, emission-free mobility.
Hanergy Thin Film Power is involved in the research and development, design and assembly of large-scale thin-film solar turnkey production lines. Hanergy Thin Film Power also develops and operates downstream solar power projects and application products.
The Audi/Hanergy Thin Film Solar Cell Research and Development Project plans to complete its first prototype by the end of 2017.