Automotive

Toyota's latest solar-powered Prius can charge when on the move

Toyota is set to start testing the new solar-paneled car this month on public roads in Japan
Toyota is set to start testing the new solar-paneled car this month on public roads in Japan
View 13 Images
Unlike the previous solar panels to adorn its the Prius plug-in hybrid, the new array will be capable of charging the vehicle while it is on the move
1/13
Unlike the previous solar panels to adorn its the Prius plug-in hybrid, the new array will be capable of charging the vehicle while it is on the move
Toyota expects the latest array, which it has fitted to the roof, hood and rear hatch of a demo model Prius, to produce around 860 W
2/13
Toyota expects the latest array, which it has fitted to the roof, hood and rear hatch of a demo model Prius, to produce around 860 W
Toyota says the new Prius' solar array can add 44.5 km of battery-only range per day
3/13
Toyota says the new Prius' solar array can add 44.5 km of battery-only range per day
Toyota has fitted out an experimental version of its Prius with a fresh rooftop solar kit to explore the limits of sun-powered road travel
4/13
Toyota has fitted out an experimental version of its Prius with a fresh rooftop solar kit to explore the limits of sun-powered road travel
Toyota is set to start testing the new solar-paneled car this month on public roads in Japan
5/13
Toyota is set to start testing the new solar-paneled car this month on public roads in Japan
Toyota has fitted out a demonstration model of its Prius with a new solar array
6/13
Toyota has fitted out a demonstration model of its Prius with a new solar array
Toyota says the new Prius' solar array can add 44.5 km of battery-only range per day
7/13
Toyota says the new Prius' solar array can add 44.5 km of battery-only range per day
Toyota has fitted out a demonstration model of its Prius with a new solar array
8/13
Toyota has fitted out a demonstration model of its Prius with a new solar array
Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now
9/13
Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now
Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now
10/13
Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now
Toyota expects the latest array, which it has fitted to the roof, hood and rear hatch of a demo model Prius, to produce around 860 W
11/13
Toyota expects the latest array, which it has fitted to the roof, hood and rear hatch of a demo model Prius, to produce around 860 W
Toyota says the new Prius' solar array can add 44.5 km of battery-only range per day
12/13
Toyota says the new Prius' solar array can add 44.5 km of battery-only range per day
Toyota has fitted out an experimental version of its Prius with a fresh rooftop solar kit to explore the limits of sun-powered road travel
13/13
Toyota has fitted out an experimental version of its Prius with a fresh rooftop solar kit to explore the limits of sun-powered road travel

Toyota has fitted out an experimental Prius with a fresh rooftop solar kit to explore the limits of sun-powered road travel. Unlike the previous solar panels to adorn its plug-in hybrid, the new array will be capable of charging the vehicle while it is on the move, a feature that is hoped to give range and efficiency a significant boost.

The World Solar Challenge is an endurance race across Australia for solar-powered vehicles, and each instalment shows us what is possible when cars are built for maximum efficiency. Entrants are hardly the kinds of cars you can load the family into and take off on a holiday, but some of the technologies they employ has been adapted to cars of a more traditional mold.

The ambitious and recently revealed Lightyear One EV is one, which is being developed by members of Solar Team Eindhoven who won the World Solar Challenges in 2013, 2015 and 2017. These guys reckon they can leverage five square meters (53.9 sq ft) of solar cells embedded in the roof and hood to power the car for up to 20,000 km (around 12,500 mi) of clean travel per year.

Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now, first introducing a solar roof option for the production version of its Prius in 2012. The latest production iteration of this developed together with Panasonic generates 180 W and adds around 6.1 km (3.8 mi) of battery-only range per day, when left to charge up in ideal conditions.

Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now
Toyota has also been exploring the potential of solar-powered cars for a little while now

By comparison, Toyota expects the latest array, which it has fitted to the roof, hood and rear hatch of a demo model Prius, to produce around 860 W. This jump comes courtesy of new and improved solar cells developed by Sharp with a conversion efficiency of 34 percent (compared to 22.5 percent of the production version), and can apparently add 44.5 km (27.6 mi) of battery-only range per day.

Whereas the production model will only charge the battery while parked and otherwise just feeds power into the car's onboard navigation systems and the like, the new demo version can charge the car while it is being driven, stretching that range out to 56.3 km (35 mi).

Toyota is set to start testing the new car this month on public roads in Japan, and will use the trials to gather data on the cruising range and fuel efficiency. It is collaborating with Sharp and Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization on the venture, with an eye to developing more advanced onboard solar recharging capabilities for its vehicles.

Source: Toyota

6 comments
Alex Krikke
It’s about time that the roof area of vehicles are put to work generating something useful, as opposed to the fairly common “moon” roofs the IMHO are added to vehicles as a useless expense. (Had a few, used very little)
Colt12
This should work out well, most people have a short drive to work where the car sets in a parking lot for 8 hours or more. That amount of charging should top off the batteries every day.
Aleksandra Wladyczynska
Solar cells on cars are interesting, because a) You're certain that the energy is renewable b) For the owner there is no effort required c) Most commuters work nearby/Cars are mostly standing still. The news on the Prius still lacks some technical data. A conversion of 34%. What does it mean for the price? Is even realistic that it will become available?
RonAgneloSaldanha
44.5km? Pretty neat, wonder how many years we going to continue to hold this tech back to make money through fossil fuels and all that. 40km is pretty much my daily work back and forth commute on my Motorcycle!
tsvieps
If the cost and durability are right, this should prove quite useful. We have a Prius-plugin. But for those without easy access to grid charging, a hybrid like this now could be practical. The higher solar conversion efficiency seems to be what was needed to make a solar-powered reasonable EV range practical. The area on the roof of a Prius is relatively small. The materials matter. Are they fragile? We get pine cones and such falling on our car roof. A ding in the paint or small dent from such events is disappointing, but expensive damage to a solar panel would be most irritating.
ReservoirPup
I doubt they’ll use the same 34% efficiency cells on the production model, as they’re astronomically expensive. But who in their right mind would use 20% cells for a proto that paves the way for what is surely to become a ubiquitous tech in some 5-10 years? The only thing I’d try also is putting the same stuff on a minivan. Good job Toyota!
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.