Electric Car Prototype Can Run 12 Miles On Solar Power Alone

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P-Mob solar electric car (Video screen shot)

P-Mob solar electric car (Video screen shot)

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Due to the very specific processes by which the universe works, it isn't really possible to power a modern electric car via on-board solar panels.

Current photovoltaic cells simply don't produce enough power over a specific area to supply the needs of a power-hungry electric road car. It's why World Solar Challenge vehicles are like giant solar tables with a mere bubble for the driver.

A new small electric car prototype called P-MOB is aiming to change that though--and can run for up to 12 miles using nothing more than solar power generated by its on-board panels.

According to TheGreenCarWebsite, it's a collaborative project supported by Siemens Germany, Mazel, IFEVS, Polimodel, Fiat, and the University of Sheffield in the UK. $3.7 million in European Union funding has been injected into the project, with the aim of producing an efficient, safe and compact electric vehicle.

In testing at Fiat's test track in Turin, Italy, it's certainly succeeding on the efficiency front, proving its ability to run for 12 miles entirely using solar power.

It uses two electric motors for all-wheel drive, and touts a top speed of 62 mph. That sounds slow by modern electric car standards, but consider the P-MOB's intended usage and it doesn't look so bad. The idea here is to run very short journeys, often in cities, on as little energy as possible. You'd be lucky to break 10 mph in many European inner-city commutes, nor drive further than ten miles--so 62 mph and a 12-mile electric range makes more sense than it sounds.

Nor would it be limited to just 12 miles. While mono-crystalline silicon solar cells help attain that 12-mile solar range, the model is also fitted with a battery pack. This can be charged from a mains electricity supply just like any other EV.

Potentially, parking the P-MOB outside your house on a sunny day could even reduce your electricity bills, since excess energy generated by the car could be sold back to the grid.

The latter breaks no new ground, but is increasingly seen as an important factor in the future of electric vehicles. If you speak Italian, or simply want to see the car in action, check out the video below:

A 12-mile solar electric car--and one of such compact dimensions--isn't likely to be a reality in the U.S. for a long time, but fret not. You can still get all the benefits of solar power with few of the drawbacks by charging your electric car with home-mounted solar panels...


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Comments (24)
  1. I don't see the "on-board" solar panels.

  2. Yup, as you've noted below, it's something that seems to be in their plans but it's less clear if it's implemented on the driving prototype (it may well be mentioned in the video, but sadly my Italian is non-existent).

  3. Now thats a range extender, 12 miles is about what the plug-in Prius has for it's electric only range. Personally the solar roof on the Fisker Karma was one of my two favorite features and looking at it I did wish it had the capabilities this little car supposedly has.

  4. Technically, I think 12 miles would be twice the range of the electric only mode of the PiP which is only 6 miles. Toyota says it is 11 miles, but that includes some gasoline :)

  5. Yah I was going on what Toyota says.

  6. Nah, you can get a legit 11+ miles of pure EV driving as long as you stay under 62mph and don't accelerate too fast or use the heater on high. I had a 2012 PIP. The 6 mile quote was for the EPA test in which acceleration and or top speed kicked the PIP out of EV mode. Under normal driving scenarios, most PIP owners get between 8-17miles of pure EV.

  7. John, no, 11 miles is the actual total range on battery of the PiP, as per EPA.
    "Blended" only means that you won't get them over 11 miles, but more -- maybe 15; depends how you drive.

    Yes, gas will be used as well during some of that distance, but in the end, you will have saved the amount of fuel it would have taken to travel 11 miles, exactly like if you had 11 "true EV miles". Hence that rating.

  8. "but in the end, you will have saved the amount of fuel it would have taken to travel 11 miles"

    Not if the heat is on. Then your so called "fuel" saved is much lower.

    Or even worse, you started with full battery and you are coming down a big hill, instead of NOT using any gasoline, the PIP will actually turn on the engine to "burn off" the excessive electricity regen.

    No other plugin cars have that type of behavoirs today...

  9. The engine will turn but will not burn fuel. If the Prius (all) battery is "full" then the engine will spin to burn off excess energy but it doesn't use fuel. I've watched this quite a bit on SG2 and Torque when I had my 2005, 2012 and 2012 PIP. My commute takes me up +1,200ft. in elevation. :)

  10. So, it uses engine as "brakes"? With Atkinson cycle, that is NOT exactly very effective....

  11. This PDF shows solar panels on the roof and integrated into the glass!!! Wonder if that was implemented on the prototype.

  12. Bravo! I test drove a Tesla S this past weekend and part of my conversation with the rep was on this topic: When will Tesla incorporate solar cells on the body of their cars? If makes complete sense; even if the technology provides a trickle charge for a few miles -- something is something. Eventually, the efficiency of photovoltaic cells will undoubtedly improve. The next model year should include this current technology.

  13. I think everyone is waiting for the thinfilm solar. Once that happens, you can make it really cheap and potentially covering the car without added significant cost. At that point, it is a no brainer to add that feature.

    But currently, it is just not cost effective....

  14. I hope that someone will figure out how the thinfilm solar kits can be used on both electric and hybrid models to increase range, but I suspect there will be compatibility problems with existing vehicles and only vehicles designed to accept power from solar panels would work.
    Maybe some aftermarket company can find a way to sneak the power into the computer system without the system knowing it, much the same way that Enginer did by sneaking power from an added battery pack on a prius in through the regen. braking system.
    Imagine the the tens or even hundreds of thousands of kits that would be bought to increase MPGe on all those hybrids and electrics already on the road today. First company to do that gets rich.

  15. I think the most important feature of this car is the claimed Cd that is ~30% lower than other similar sized cars. The sides and the roof do appear to be well tapered in the back, and the wheels have smooth and flat rims.

    The layout of this car reminds me of the Murray T27.

  16. In previous articles posted on this website, reporters have documented saying Fiat doesn't believe in electric vehicles. So why are they involved in a project like this one?

  17. Torino is home to Fiat, where this video was made. Shows who ever said Fiat doesn't believe in electric is wrong.

  18. Steve
    Fiat is in a joint venture with 5 other companies, the article doesn't say how much money Fiat is putting in, but my guess is that the order of the names of companies involved indicates that Siemens is mentioned first because they are putting up the most money and Fiat is last because they put in the least amount of money. Just a guess on my part, but if it's true, then Fiat would be benefitting from the research. Even Fiat will not be able to drag their feet forever. The CAFE standards will eventually reach mandatory mpg levels that can't be meet with just an ICE powertrain alone. Pioneer carmakers like Toyota and Honda will be light years ahead of slow walking backward thinking Fiat/Chrysler when they stop with the compliance cars.

  19. I like math, so let us do some math.

    12 miles at 6 miles per KWh about 2x the current EV efficiency takes at least 2KWh. @ 200 Watts per square meter, that is either 10 hrs of sunlight on 1 square meter of solar panel or 5 square meters of panel for at least 1 hr.

    So, in another word, the math doesn't add up.

    Of course, they will probably claim that the battery onboard will store the "solar power" and then release it as needed during driving.

    In that sense, then it is no different from any other EVs today that are powered by solar panels...

  20. So perhaps you can drive to the market once per week. :)

  21. Now that really turned my head. Yes I do speak Italian and I applaud what Europe is doing here. Had the article said such and such dealer is selling them here in the U.S., I would already be out the door! My sister in law had a natural gas powered car back in the early 70's and while stationed in Italy, I had a diesel way back in 1965. We are so far behind in this country.

  22. Morrison
    We are so far behind because until just a few years ago we had cheap gas. The Europeans had the motivation to improve because they have been paying through the nose for gas for a very long time.

  23. We just need to keep subsidizing these technologies as they can dramatically change the world for the better. If we keep doing this, we will see great improvements in photovoltaic cells and be able to find the right mixture of power sources for our cars. Really exciting stuff.

  24. A definite step in the right direction. As one person said "something is something" and as I am fond of pointing out to people a 120 foot flight at Kiityhawk led to an future that was unimaginable at the time. Thank goodness there are people who don't just see the negative.

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