Solar Panels Could be the Ultimate Accessory for EVs

But at what cost?

  • Lightyear 0 is set to become the world’s first production-ready solar car.
  • The EV uses solar cells and intelligent design to go months without a recharge.
  • The first version is prohibitively expensive, though the company says the next iteration will be much more affordable.
Lightyear 0 EV with solar panels built in


Dutch company Lightyear has turned to solar panels to make electric vehicles last longer while reducing plug-in time. 

The company is all set to launch the "world's first production-ready solar car" called the Lightyear 0. It's a streamlined and energy-efficient sedan-style EV that's covered with curved solar panels.

"The shift to solar power is a necessary change that's happening now and will only continue to grow," Julia Fowler, Marketing Coordinator at solar specialist vendor Pvilion, told Lifewire over email. "This vehicle is a huge stride for the industry and just the beginning of a future where nearly everything is powered by solar."

Solar Add-on

Lightyear 0 is the result of six years of research and development and solves a critical issue with EVs.

"Electric cars are a step in the right direction, but they have a scaling problem," Lex Hoefsloot, co-founder and CEO, noted in a press release. "There's no hiding from it, access to charging stations will not keep up with the demand for electric cars."

Hoefsloot said the standard approach to minimize charging time while maximizing range has been to pile on more or bigger batteries. He argued this isn't a sustainable solution as it not only increases the car's weight but also necessitates high-power charging stations.

Integrating solar panels into Lightyear 0 helps the company deliver more range with less battery, in turn reducing not just the weight of the vehicle but also its CO₂ emissions.

In a video introduction, the chief designer of Lightyear 0, Koen van Ham, explained the car has five square meters of curved solar cells on the roof and on the hood that offer up to 70 km (43 mi) of range per day in optimal conditions. That's on top of its estimated Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) range of 625 km (388 mi). 

Crunching the numbers, the company estimates the solar cells will add up to 11,000 km (6,835 mi) per year. This will help people who drive the car for up to 35 km (21.7 mi) daily to use Lightyear 0 for several months before plugging it in. For the Netherlands' cloudier climates, the company fathoms the car can last up to a couple of months on a single charge, while in sunnier places, it imagines the car can go for as long as seven months before recharging.

Solar Everything

To get more bang for the buck, Lightyear designed the car to be highly efficient. van Ham pointed out the car’s included four in-wheel motors to minimize energy loss. Moreover, the car measures five meters in length, yet its total weight is only 1,575 kg (3,472 lbs). Together with its aerodynamic design, this helps it achieve an energy use rate of 10.5 kWh per 100 km.

The company claims the design decisions make Lightyear 0 one of the most energy-efficient EVs, allowing you to cruise at speeds of 110 km/h (68 mph) for 560 km (348 mi).

top down iso view of the Lightyear 0 solar panel-powered EV


Production of the Lightyear 0 is set to begin later this year, and the first car will be delivered as early as November 2022. A maximum of 946 units will be produced at a starting cost of €250,000 ($262,000), leaving many amused.

"The people who make a €250,000 solar-powered car want to convince people it is a "viable alternative," tweeted musician John D. Lewis. "Not at €250,000 a throw, it isn't."

This dichotomy isn't lost on Lightyear, who've already announced the next version of the car, the Lightyear 2. Set to enter production sometime in 2024/2025, the next version of the solar-powered car will have a high volume production run, allowing the company to price it at a more accessible cost of €30,000 ($31,400).

Notably, Lightyear isn't the only company that sees the potential of solar cells in EVs. Vision EQXX, the newest line of EVs from the Mercedes-Benz stable, will also have solar cells lined on its roof.

"It is absolutely time that we start adding solar panels to EVs," asserted Fowler. "At Pvilion, we believe that solar integration into all non-traditional surfaces is the direction that the future is headed in."

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