I am a firm believer that if electric cars are to gain widespread acceptance, they first need to be proven in America’s congested cities. Most city dwellers usually don’t drive that far, have access to alternate forms of transportation, and likely spend more time on their iPhones than in a car anyway. It is the perfect proving ground for electric cars.
The MINILUX Solar Car concept realizes this, and rather than serving as an expensive paperweight while sitting idle, it can actually return energy back to the grid. It’s pretty neat looking too, aside from those funky wheels.
Designed by Jukka Rautiainen, the MINILUX is, as you guessed, an electric car essentially covered in solar panels. And why not? We’ve had solar panel cars for decades now, they their performance leaves much to be desired. It it designed as a “leisure car” for city dwellers, people who normally get to work via subway but on occasion head for a jaunt outside of town.
The MINILUX would require a public or private two-way energy exchanger to function as intended. When the battery is low, the solar panels and plug-in would recharge the car. But once reaching maximum capacity, the solar cells could then return excess energy back to the grid. Apparently, the car would have an annual driving capacity of 9,000 miles in mild locations like the US east coast, but 16,000+ in sunnier locales like California.
The solar panels are the high-efficiency Gallium Arsenide types, the same used in space applications. These same types of panels are being used to power the Mars Rovers, and can achieve an efficiency of over 40% in laboratory conditions. Of course, that means they are expensive, to the tune of $10,000 per square meter (or so), so this wouldn’t exactly be a “cheap” alternative. The roof of the MINILUX is designed to open up and increase the solar capture area as well, giving it a Satanic Ladybug-like look. It even wears futuristic “airless wheels” to reduce rolling resistance and achieve maximum efficiency.
Now, one obvious problem with such a car is that there isn’t a whole lot of sunshine in the city. Skyscrapers tend to have a shadowing effect, after all. While the idea of recharging on solar power is nice, and returning that power to the city’s grid even nicer, I can’t even begin to estimate how many hundreds of thousands of these cars it would take to power even a small city. But hey, its a new idea, and we can use all the new ideas we can get these days. A zero emission driving experience like this might even make it to the road some day.