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Solar Powered Vehicles May be Best For Africa

By Yemi Olakitan

Solar powered vehicles are vehicles that use solar energy to power their electric motors and they may be the best for the African continent because of the availability of abundant sunlight.

They have several advantages, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving fuel costs, and using renewable energy sources. However, they also face some challenges, such as high initial costs, limited battery capacity, and dependence on weather conditions.

According to reports, there have been some initiatives and innovations to develop and test solar powered vehicles in Africa, especially in regions with more abundant sunlight.

Solar Powered Vehicles can provide mobility and access to remote areas that lack reliable electricity or road infrastructure. They can also offer a sustainable and low-cost alternative to fossil fuel-based vehicles, which are often expensive and scarce in some parts of the continent.

Solar Powered Vehicles can create new opportunities for local manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and job creation, as well as stimulate research and development in the field of renewable energy.

However, solar powered vehicles have some limitations and challenges because they require a large surface area of solar panels, which may not be feasible or practical for some vehicle designs or purposes.

They depend on the availability and intensity of sunlight, which may vary depending on the season, time of day, and weather conditions and they may also face technical issues, such as battery degradation, overheating, or damage from dust and sand.

Solar Powered Vehicles may encounter regulatory, policy, or social barriers, such as lack of standards, incentives, or awareness, as well as resistance from vested interests or cultural preferences.

The answer to whether solar powered vehicles are best for Africa depends on many factors, such as the specific needs, goals, and preferences of the users, the environmental and economic conditions of the regions, and the availability and affordability of the technology.

Solar powered vehicles may be a viable and attractive option for some scenarios, but not for others. They may also need to be complemented or integrated with other forms of transportation or energy sources, such as hybrid or electric vehicles, grid-connected or off-grid systems, or biofuels or hydrogen. Ultimately, the best solution for Africa is one that is tailored to its diverse and dynamic realities, and that maximizes its potential and opportunities for sustainable development.

A recent study also suggested that solar energy can provide a range of between 6 and 18 miles (11 and 29 kilometers) for electric vehicles each day, cutting down on the requirement for charging by half.

Solar cars as automobiles that run primarily on solar energy, which is commonly captured using photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted on the surface of the car, converts sunlight into electricity by these panels, which can then be used to either directly power the electric engine of the vehicle or to charge batteries.

Compared to regular petrol or electric automobiles, solar cars have a shorter range. Their range is affected by things like weather conditions, solar cell performance, and solar panel size. As a result, they are frequently employed for limited purposes like short journeys or urban commuting.

This is because, due to the efficiency of solar panels and the constrained surface area available on a car, it is difficult to provide enough power for long-distance or high-speed driving. Additionally, the performance of the vehicle can be considerably impacted by environmental factors like overcast days.

However, solar vehicles have no emissions from their tailpipes, which makes them eco-friendly and helps to minimize air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This makes them especially suitable for city use.

“Cities are today the main market for electric vehicles and, due to the relatively small travelled distances, are particularly interesting for solar-powered vehicles. However, in urban areas, we have buildings, trees and other obstacles casting shadows onto the roads thus limiting the solar potential of driving or parked vehicles.

Cities in Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe, and Southeast Asia are the best places for solar-powered vehicles. However, other regions with significant potential included China, North America, and Australia. In those regions, the cities’ solar losses from shade are approximately 25 percent, making them ideal for the widespread adoption of this technology.

Despite the quick uptake of electric cars, the transportation industry still contributes to around one-third of all worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, it is necessary to considerably reduce the emissions related to mobility in order to meet global decarbonization targets.

Despite being a promising and environmentally friendly mode of transportation, solar cars only have a small market at the moment because of issues such as price and range. However, as solar technology develops, this may soon change.

Solar-powered vehicles have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions, operational costs and charging frequency needs of electric vehicles. This potential will depend on the local solar irradiation but also shadowing conditions, a relevant issue for urban contexts.

The potential of solar-powered vehicles in the urban context is modelled for 100 cities across the world showing that the median solar extended driving range is 18 and 8 km/day/kWp for driving and parked vehicles, respectively. The most favourable geographies include Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia; nonetheless, solar-powered mobility has relevant potential across the full sample, including China, Europe, North America and Australia.

Different countries in Africa are exploring various ways to use solar energy for transportation. However, some examples of recent initiatives is Morocco.

In October 2023, a solar-powered off-road car called Stella Terra completed a 620-mile test drive across Morocco and the Sahara.
The car was designed by students at the Eindhoven University of Technology and can run on the energy provided by multiple solar panels on its roof.

In March 2023, a Nigerian firm called EN1 Technologies announced its plans to develop solar-powered vehicles for the African market. The company said it would use locally sourced materials and technology to create affordable and eco-friendly cars.

In February 2023, a team of students from the University of Johannesburg unveiled a prototype of a solar-powered car called Ilanga II. The car can reach speeds of up to 87 mph and has a range of 124 miles on a single charge.

These are just some of the examples of how African countries are harnessing solar energy to power cars and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Solar energy is abundant, renewable, and clean, and has the potential to transform the transportation sector in Africa and beyond.


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