A new SUV using solar panels installed on its sloping roof to charge its electric batteries, has been tested in Morocco as manufacturers begin creating cars to be used in places where petrol stations or electric chargers are unavailable.
Built by a team of students at Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE), the ‘world’s first off-road solar-powered vehicle’ could help connect remote areas ‘where roads are less developed and energy grids are not as reliable’, and can assist with emergency assistance and delivery, says Thiem Bosman, the team’s events manager.
The team tested the vehicle in Morocco earlier this month, covering more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) between the country’s northern coast and the Sahara Desert in the south.
‘There’s a variety of landscapes and different surfaces in a fairly short distance in Morocco,’ says Bosman, adding that the car was tested on ‘every type of surface that a car like this can encounter.’
The speed of the car
The road-legal car has a top speed of 145 kilometers (90 mph) per hour.
On a sunny day, depending on the surface, its battery range is about 710 kilometers (441 mi) on-road and about 550 kilometers (342 mi) off-road.
In cloudy conditions, the team estimates the range could be reduced by 50 kilometres.
Bosman said that during the trip the vehicle proved to be one third more efficient than expected, and that its lightweight design made it less liable to get stuck in rough terrain, and put less stress on its suspension.
Capable of traveling off-road, and without the need for charging points, drivers of solar-powered SUVs are free to go where they want, says Van Ginkel.
The only restriction, he says, is, ‘What will you do when you want to sleep?’
Stella Terra is based on the idea of a solar-powered campervan previously built at the university, and designers have added elements of an SUV to make it livable for long-distance, multi-day trips: for example, a car.
The seats recline completely to form a bed. When the car is stationary, the solar panels can be extended for maximum charging, while also serving as an awning for shade.
Bosman says the team has also designed highly efficient solar panel converters, which he hopes could be beneficial to the broader solar industry.
What is the difference between electric SUV and standard electric vehicles?
Electric SUVs are heavier than standard electric vehicles and require larger, heavier batteries to power them.
‘Where the SUV market is currently innovating on previous models, we really started from the ground up and designed everything ourselves,’says Bosman.
It was essential to reduce the vehicle’s weight, and the team of 22 students focused on making each element ultra-efficient.
At only 2,645 pounds (1,200 kg), the Stella Terra weighs approximately 25% less than the average mid-size SUV.
The aerodynamic design also reduces drag and uses ‘light and strong’ composite materials to reduce weight, says Bob Van Ginkel, Stella Terra’s technical manager.
‘(One) advantage of top-mounted solar panels is that we can have a much smaller battery because we’re charging while driving,’ says Van Ginkel.