By Evan Ackerman
Solar powered vehicles, whether we’re talking about cars or airplanes, usually share the characteristic of perpetually almost falling apart. What I mean is, solar power is so close to not being usable that vehicles must be as light as possible, or they will not fly (or drive). Technology is improving, though, and it’s at the point where a team from the Eindhoven University of Technology has been able to create a solar powered car that manages to seat four while generating more energy over the course of the year than it uses to drive.
“Stella Lux” is an upgrade of Solar Team Eindhoven’s “Stella” solar powered family car, originally developed in 2013. Stella Lux is made primarily of carbon fiber and aluminum for a total weight of just 375 kg, and features a tunnel that runs through the bottom center of the car to improve aerodynamic efficiency. On the roof is a 5.8 square meter array of solar panels to feed the car and charge 15 kWh of onboard batteries, giving the car a fully charged range of about 1,100 km where it’s sunny (like in Australia) and 1,000 km where it’s not (the Netherlands). This range almost certainly goes down if you’re carting around three American-sized passengers, or if you push the car to its top speed of 125 km/h.
Inside, the car actually looks pretty comfy, despite the big tunnel down the middle. The seats and doors are integrated with each other to save weight while increasing interior space, and there’s some sort of mood lightning. The driver has access to a whole bunch of tactile controls with haptic feedback, and the navigation system is weather aware, able to plan the most efficient route by taking into account where the most sunlight can be found.
What might be most impressive about Stella Lux is that it’s energy positive: on average, the car uses less energy driving than it produces during the day, even in a place like the Netherlands where it’s not constantly sunny. Depending on weather, the daily range of the car on solar power alone varies between about 50 km and 300 km, and driving any less than the daily max solar range results in a surplus of energy that can be returned to the grid.
This October, Stella Lux will be competing in the the Cruiser Class of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, a 3,000 km race through the Australian Outback. And for a mere 10,000 Euro pledge to the team’s crowdfunding campaign, they’ll fly you to Australia to ride in Stella Lux yourself.