Lamenting the absence of a practical, usable solar car…
In an episode of The Raccoons which aired in 1985, entitled “The Evergreen Grand Prix“, Cedric, one of the protagonists and Cyril Sneer’s son, comes up with a design for an innovative solar car that Cyril promises to mass-produce in a new deal struck with a big car manufacturer, a Mr. Mammoth. Once the manufacturer hears the car is solar-powered, he objects, because he sells other tie-in products like gasoline and oil, and they can’t be used when the fuel source is sunlight.
Cyril quickly changes his mind, trashes his son’s brilliant design, and builds a road-hog prototype instead. When it comes time to demonstrate his prototype’s abilities publicly, Cedric and Bert come up with a surprise. They rebuild the trashed solar car and propose to Cyril that the two prototypes race together to see who wins.
Mr. Mammoth is eager to see what happens, and gives the okay. Naturally — or, I suppose, unnaturally, given the current status quo — the solar car wins, to Cyril’s dismay. The manufacturer then agrees to mass-produce self-assembly kits of the solar car, which goes on to be a great success.
So I ask, given that this episode saw the light of day in 1985, has anything progressed in the area of solar cars since then? After all, it’s been 29 years. That’s a long time, during which many new developments could have been architected. The answer is sadly no.
To put things in perspective, the Solar Coaster used a single rectangular solar panel which also doubled as a rear spoiler, and it was enough to make the car “peppy”, as one of the lines in the show went. Today’s solar cars (actually, all solar cars since their inception, sadly) have placed photovoltaic panels over the entire top of the car, and it’s still not enough. They have had to adjust the design radically in order to increase the top surface area, so the cars have no side height at all. They’re basically tapered tops and bottoms, packed full of solar cells, and yet their performance cannot be described as peppy.
I realize the Solar Coaster doesn’t exist. It’s only the fancy of the show’s writers, but still, it’s a good standard by which to judge the solar car’s progress within the last three decades, simply because the idea has been around for that long, if not longer. From my point of view, R&D in photovoltaic cells has stagnated sadly, and this is what’s holding back the solar car. Incredible leaps have been made in computer technology, building technology, and even the performance of petrol-fueled cars, but unfortunately the solar car is still the sickly step child no one likes to play with. To paraphrase Terry from “On the Waterfront”, it could have been a contender; it could have been somebody. [Sorry for the cliché.]
Instead of a serious contender, we’re offered a glorified solar fan in the form of the 2010 Toyota Prius, whose solar cells will be used to cool the car while it’s parked. Thanks, but we’ve had that stuff around since the 80s too.
If you want to watch the full “Evergreen Grand Prix” episode, it’s available on Youtube in three parts: part 1, part 2 and part 3. If you’re seeing this on my site, not on my feed, you can also watch the videos below.