Could A Solar-Powered Car Eliminate Range Anxiety?
Dutch Company Launches Solar Car
Lightyear, a new high-tech company from the Netherlands, has launched its first production vehicle, the Lightyear 0. After six years of research, development, and testing, the Lightyear 0 will go in to production in the fall of 2022, and will be available initially to European owners.
The company claims that the Lightyear 0 will enable drivers to travel for up to seven months without plugging in at home or at a public charging station thanks to its solar charging technology. Is this the future for drivers who want all of the advantages of electric driving and sustainable energy, combined with true freedom of travel? Let’s find out.
Drive For Months Without Charging
The Lightyear 0 is a sleek four-door sedan that combines concept car looks with plenty of usable space. The long, teardrop shape significantly contributes to its amazing aerodynamics, while skinny low rolling resistance tires reduce its frontal area and its footprint. Door handles are recessed into the body so they don’t interrupt the air’s flow, and for the same reason, conventional side-view mirrors are replaced with tiny cameras. Lightweight construction keeps weight low to further improve efficiency.
What makes Lightyear 0 different from other electric cars is its five square meters of patented, double-curved solar panels, which allow the vehicle to charge itself while driving, or when it is parked outdoors. Lightyear estimates that in optimal conditions, the solar array lets the Lightyear 0 power itself for up to 40 or so miles a day – on top the WLTP-estimated 388-mile range from its battery. Which means that if your battery is charged up, and your car is outside, you might be able to do all of your commuting without ever having to plug in – and still have plenty of electric range in reserve.
Of course, not all days are “ideal” days, and parking indoors or inclement weather will reduce the Lightyear 0’s ability to charge. The company estimates that, on average, the solar panels will yield about 6,800 miles of driving range a year. Your mileage, of course, may vary; sunny climates such as Arizona or Florida might yield far more solar-powered range – and further reduce the need to plug in!
Incredibly Efficient Engineering
Lightyear claims that the 0 has the most efficient electric drivetrain currently available. On the European testing cycle, its energy use of 10.5 kWh per 100 km (approximately 199 MPGe) makes it significantly more efficient than top-rated vehicles like the Tesla Model 3. That’s thanks to a combination of four tiny in-wheel electric motors, and a record-breaking drag coefficient of just 0.19.
In addition to superb aerodynamics and a hyper-efficient drivetrain, the Lightyear 0 is also incredibly light for an electric car. Even though it measures almost 197 inches long – a true full-size sedan – it weighs just under 3,500 pounds – over a thousand pounds less than any of its closest rivals. That means that in real-life conditions, at real-life highway speeds, it still delivers impressive range: 350 miles at 65 mph, by Lightyear's estimate.
The Lightyear 0’s interior exhibits a similar level of minimalism and intelligence. The sleek dashboard has a 10.1-inch touch-screen infotainment system that can be updated over the air, and the sparsely-designed interior is made entirely from vegan and naturally-sourced materials like microfiber suede on the seats, and rattan palm trim details. The interior is beautiful and spacious, in a very Scandinavian sort of way.
Very Expensive, Very Limited
The first Lightyear 0 will be delivered in November of 2022. Unfortunately, it won’t be available to American customers; a total of just 946 will be sold at MSRP of 250,000 Euros (about $260,000 U.S.), strictly for European customers. However, Lightyear has plans for models that will be available more widely, at much lower price points in late 2024 and early 2025.
More than that, the Lightyear 0 shows us what’s possible with extensive use of solar panels, and extreme engineering efficiency – proving that there are still many exciting developments to come in the electric vehicle space.