In this week's bi-annual World Solar Challenge, a Dutch team from the Eindhoven University of Technology snagged the overall win for their unique concept: a electricity-generating solar car that gives back to the grid.
According to Green Car Congress, the car, called the "Stella Vie," was able to transport up to five people (an average of 3.4 people per kilometer traveled) using only 48 kWh of electricity. Most of the electricity used was generated on the course.
Even more impressive, the vehicle is said to be able to generate more electricity than it uses. This means that not only can it provide a clean means of transportation, but it can also allow users to feed power back into the grid. "This is the future of solar electric vehicles. When your car is parked at home it can be charging and supplying energy back to the grid," said event director Chris Selwood in a press release.
The winner for speed, "Nuna 9," developed by the Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, was first across the finish line of a more than 3,000-kilometre (1,860-mile) Australian course that extended from Darwin to Adelaide. This is the third straight win for the Nuna 9 team. Yet the overall winner of the competition takes design, practicality, energy efficiency, and innovation into account.
Eindhoven's electricity-generating solar car might not be the speediest car on the track, but it could be a huge boon for families and the electric grid alike. "Through a smart charging and discharging system she charges the battery when the demand of energy from the grid is high and vice versa," Team Eindhoven said in a release. "Any surplus energy generated can easily be supplied back to the grid."
The goal of the Cruiser class is practicality, with the 12 cars in the class aiming to prove the viability of solar-powered family vehicles. More mainstream developers have also started dipping their toes into integrating solar power into their vehicles.
One solar car company, Lightyear, has emerged with the promise of practical solar-powered vehicles by 2030. Chinese solar panel manufacturer Hanergy Holding Group has also formed a Solar Vehicle Business Division equipped with four prototypes for solar powered vehicles.
Elon Musk of Tesla toyed with the idea of including solar panels in the roof of Tesla's Model 3, before deciding that the company would "scrap that idea."
Solar powered cars have a long way to go before we can expect to see them cruising on the streets. Still, the prospect of a vehicle that relies only on clean energy, coupled with the ability to feed back into the grid, leaves a lot to get excited about.