Solar power for the new Prius?

Posted by: Ian Rowley on July 6, 2008

I can’t be the only person to have been slightly underwhelmed after reading headlines in Japan today stating that the next generation Prius will use solar power, making Toyota the first major carmaker to use the technology in a mass production model.

Before anyone else gets too excited, it appears Toyota is planning to install solar panels in the roof of the new Prius to help power the air conditioning system, rather than propel the car. According to the reports, which aren’t attributed to anybody, Toyota will buy solar panels from Kyoto-based Kyocera capable of supplying part of the 2-5 kilowatts of power needed to run the air con unit. Whether the solar system will be optional or standard isn’t clear.

Still, it sounds like a good idea. While Japanese car drivers’ green credentials are pretty good (after all, one-on-three cars sold here is a 660cc minicar), it’s not unusual to see construction workers, taxi drivers or weary salarymen taking a break from the stifling summer heat by taking forty winks while reclining in a parked, fully air conditioned vehicle. If Toyota can come up with system that enables that without having to keep the engine running, it’s a step in the right direction.

UPDATE: As some readers with good memories have noted, even if the Prius does have solar panels it won’t be the first, despite the reports yesterday. The Japan-built 1993 Mazda 929 featured optional solar cells “embedded in the glass sunroof to power fans that remove hot air from the inside the car when it is parked.”

Reader Comments

Optimist

July 7, 2008 1:01 AM

If only the world had invested in R & D for alternative sources of energy, we could have had solar-powered cars (real ones, not the the usual concept cars). On one hand I too am impacted by the $ 150 / barrel oil price, but I am so happy that the world is awakening to the fact that fossil fuels is not future. I pray that we have $ 250 / barrel very soon. That is the only way people will get rid of their addiction to cheap oil.

And to the middle eastern countries, their worst fears could soon come true. Oil will get irrelevant faster than it gets over. I am so glad.

Wai L. Chui

July 7, 2008 3:38 PM

Not excited about the Prius using solar power to run air conditioning? Park your car in the summer sun in Texas for 20 minutes. You will really appreciate the fact that the AC can keep running while you leave the car to run your errand.

windward

July 7, 2008 5:36 PM

Unfortunately, the "Optimist" has no real understanding of how energy markets, especially the oil market, work. I doubt any oil suppliers, in the Middle East or elsewhere, are losing any sleep over alternative energies suddenly supplanting their product. Nice 'revenge fantasy' though.

Lucas

July 7, 2008 7:22 PM

Kudos Toyota, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Solar panels have been around for awhile. I don't understand why no one else has thought of this before! Shame on you American auto industry. We got to the moon almost 40 years ago and we came make a decent car? C'mon!

Nick

July 7, 2008 10:23 PM

Windward: You haven't read the news lately. At the recent OPEC meeting, Arab oil sheiks voiced deep concern over the increased interest in alternative fuels and increased fuel efficiency (The U.S. has for the first time ever reduced its oil use by over 2%). No bad feelings, just check your data next time.

Rahul

July 8, 2008 2:29 AM

The Mazda 929 from the early nineties had solar panels in the sun roof that kept the car cool when parked and kept the battery topped up, obviously too far ahead of its time.

Alan

July 8, 2008 2:01 PM

The power quoted in the article seems high, given that Wikipedia says that the raw power from the sun is only 1 kW on a square meter that is tilted perpendicular to the light. Plus the conversion efficiency of a low cost (a-Si) solar cell is only 12%. But if "air conditioning" actually means just "running a fan", there should be enough power.

Dave

July 8, 2008 6:37 PM

If you really think it's possible to get "2-5 kilowatts of power" out approximately 1 square meter of solar cells, I've got a bridge to sell you!

50W-100W is more plausible.

Ian Rowley replies: Yes, it should have said have said "part" of the 2-5kW. The original online Japanese newspaper version of article from the Nikkei said "part" but some early online reports suggested something a bit more spectacular.

Shantanu Chatterjee

July 11, 2008 9:04 AM

The ideal mix would be solar power and compressed air propulsion I believe Tata is working on something that with advanced deep storeage batteries like the ones being developed for the GM volt and you can actually kick the oil habit for cars atleast in sunny countries like India and sunbelt US and heh heh the middle east :)

Tommy

July 12, 2008 9:30 AM

The Prius already runs the a/c with the engine off for at least 45 minutes. While stopped at a rest stop during a road trip in my rented Prius I took a rest with the a/c on and as far as I could tell the engine never came one. Im a light sleeper so Im pretty sure it didn't. To me this is an awesome advantage of an electric (hybrid) car, to run the accessories with out running the engine.

jake kellirs

July 12, 2008 1:07 PM

solar panels are barely cost effective in hot climates with lots of sun. they will become way more expensive as the energy costs (mainly fossil) to make them are more expensive. The worst thing you can do is add their weight to a vehicle--but them on your roof where they can supply power whenever available, not the .5 - 1 hour that they can assist a vehicle.

a fixed cell can have a lifetime of 20-30 years, but on a vehicle, cuts the efficient and the life to the life of the vehicle.

this is feel good stuff only.

John Arbis

August 7, 2008 12:20 PM

Toyota built the Prius from the ground up. I own a Prius and I'm sure Toyota will only install a solar mechanism on the roof if it's actually beneficial to the driver, both in cost efficiencies and usage. To presume that you (JK) understand more about solar technologies related to the Prius is ridiculous. You need to wait until Toyota makes a full disclosure on what newer technologies/engineering are being applied before stating your generalist negative views.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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