Hanergy to build solar-powered electric cars

It used to be that only car companies could build cars. But this is the twenty-first century, when seemingly anyone can build a car or four, including a Chinese solar power company. Hanergy Holding Group, which manufactures thin-film solar panels, has created a Solar Vehicle Business Division that debuted four solar-powered prototypes in Beijing.

In a world where anyone can come up with an idea for a vehicle, few make it all the way to production. Hanergy announced its plans to build solar-powered vehicles last year, but it failed to produce prototypes on schedule, leading industry analysts to doubt its capabilities.

But this summer, Hanergy showcased four running and driving prototypes called the Hanergy Solar O, L, A and R (check that acronym!), each designed for a different use case. All the vehicles are lightweight and covered as much as practical in flexible thin-film solar cells. According to a press release, the cells will generate 8 to 10 kWh of energy with 5 to 6 hours of sunlight, which translates to a range of 80 km (50 miles). That range is in the ballpark with several EVs available from major manufacturers, like the Fiat 500e and VW e-Golf.

That’s going to take some serious sunlight conversion, and Hanergy’s current cells have a conversion rate of 31.6 percent, the highest rate of any cells available today. Hanergy expects the rate of its cells to go up to 42 percent in the next decade, which would be enough to power a car entirely with sunlight. In the meantime, you can plug a Hanergy car in and charge the lithium-ion batteries like any other EV for an expected total range, solar and plug combined, of more than 200 miles.

Hanergy isn’t the only company working to integrate electric vehicles with zero-emissions solar charging. You may have heard of Tesla and SolarCity. If you’ve been following automotive news for a while, you may remember the Fisker Karma, which at the 2009 Detroit auto show had a prototype vehicle with solar cells on the roof (that company went bankrupt in 2013 and is being rebooted as Karma Automotive). And in 2014, the Toyota Prius was available with solar panels on the moon roof that powered a remote air conditioning system to cool the car before you got into it.