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  • Writer's pictureSolar On EV

Tesla wants Solar on EV

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

It was Elon Musk. He mentioned Solar on Tesla, not once, but multiple times over the years.

An animated design of Cybertruck with a deployable solar system open from the back of it
Pic illustrated an animated design of deployable solar system on Cybertruck from some Tesla fans.

Right From The Begining

The 1st time I tracked was an article from InsideEVs cited his Twitter conversation on Nov 4, 2016. He mentioned they might offer a solar option on the coming Model 3 in the convo, as a “deployable solar shield like a retractable hardtop”. He then scraped the idea the following year simply the economic return was too minimal.

In 2020, at the announcement of Cybertruck, “Musk surprised many when he said that Tesla’s new electric truck will have a solar roof option that will add 15 miles of range per day”. He also admitted that he pushed his Tesla engineers to integrate solar cells on Model 3 back in 2017 but concluded it wasn’t worth it at the time. With the increase in efficiency of the solar cell, it is time to go greener to put some solar on EV.

Although Musk changed his mind again in Feb 2021, he said, “solar electric van makes more sense than Cybertruck … Unless there is some kind of folding solar array on the roof”.

Obviously, he was not impressed with the performance of the deployable solar for "the Cybertruck’s motorized tonneau cover that the component could be laid with solar panels”. I think he wanted to cover the whole Cybertruck to get more solar power. We’ll see how it goes when Cybertruck comes by the end of next year. The motorized tonneau cover with solar option was also on its patent.

Deployable Solar - What's The Differences

What if you really can put deployable solar on a Cybertruck? What’s the size of solar to be installed?

It is over 10m2 from a top view of the surface area. It’s a 2kW of solar panels on a household rooftop. It’ll be less for a Cybertruck, but Imagine the available area for solar cells.

As a comparison, if solar cells were to be installed, they can be installed on its roof (panoramic windows), tonneau cover, and bonnet. They’re roughly 1.8m2, 2.8m2, and 1.3m2 respectively. If you use them all for integrated solar, you’ll get about 6m2, that is, about 1.2kW max of solar power.

Will you sacrifice the panoramic roof and/or the bonnet for solar? I wouldn’t. That’ll be left with the tonneau cover, only 2.8m2, about 500W of solar power. For an energy-hungry beast like the Cybertruck, 550W of solar is insignificant (it is very significant for some EVs, the tiny one, such as Wuling Hongguang Mini EV).

The Bigger, The Better - Only When Parked

If it is a deployable solar system, that is, only use when the Cybertruck is stationary. It may use an entire surface area of over 10m2, of close 1.7kW. For Cybertruck daily commuting, this is a significant power gain. According to our Solar-Gain Calculator, if your daily driving mileage is about 55km, you’ll only need to recharge once a month from every fortnight. If your daily mileage drops to only 35km daily, you’ll only need to recharge twice a year.

Most tradespeople have their trucks/utes parked on the road while working on-site.

If you’re driving a Model 3 or any other passenger EV, a deployable solar system covering a more extensive surface area will significantly improve the driving range or driving days. For more info, check with our “Solar-Gain Calculator”.

Genius Thinks Outside The Box - In A Practical Way

Interestingly, Elon Musk's idea of Solar on EVs is always a deployable system, that is, no solar cells "glued" onto your vehicle. It is only used when your EV park under the sun.


My guess

1. Most people drive in the early morning and late afternoon, but parked, or only short trips during 10 am – 4 pm while sun irradiance is the best. The time that you’re driving under the sun is minimal unless you’re driving a commercial vehicle, such as taxis, buses, delivery trucks, or vans mentioned above, not even an Uber.

2. There is no point to make a “Solar Car” when it’s not ready, and there is a lot of safety issues of putting solar cell on a vehicle;

3. Aesthetics. I don’t want my car to look much the same as others with solar cells all over. There should be another way to install solar on EVs, now and future.

Do you think it is a better, yet achievable way to install solar systems on electric cars?


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