Dedicated to making gas guzzling vehicles a thing of the past, a group of 21 Dutch students put their studies on hold for a year and a half so they could build a solar-powered car that is big enough to transport a family. The students developed a car called Stella Lux that actually generates more energy than it uses, even in the typically cloudy Dutch climate. Although it was designed to be efficient and aerodynamic, some efficiency was sacrificed in order to make the car practical enough for the real world. Unlike most solar vehicles, which are so small that they only fit the driver, Stella Lux has enough room for four people.
The group, called the Solar Team Eindhoven (STE), will show off their car at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia this October. The competition is a 1,864 mile long race, which STE won in 2013 with the previous version of the car, Stella. The 2013 version completed the course with an external energy output of just 64kWh. The World Solar Challenge website points out that a conventional family car would have used about 5000kWh for the same trip. This year, STE improved the design, making it more energy efficient and user-friendly. They will compete against teams from all over the world in the Cruiser Class, which includes solar vehicles that are designed to be practical enough to go to market.
Stella Lux is covered with 62.4 square feet of solar cells for generating electricity, and it has an additional battery capacity of 15 kWh. A full charge provides a range of 600-700 miles, depending on the climate. The car is made of lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum, and it has an extended roof and a tunnel running through the center of the vehicle to make it aerodynamic enough to reach a maximum speed of 78 miles per hour. It comes with a few added features: the ability to unlock the doors from a paired smartphone, an app that can plan routes based on the driver’s calendar appointments, and a touchscreen with buttons that are designed to be used without the driver ever needing to look away from the road. The car’s solar navigation system can even monitor the weather and choose an optimal route, although we’re not sure how practical that would be for real consumers, especially families. Ultimately, the most important feature is the car’s ability to generate electricity. The students have demonstrated that there could be a future where cars actually produce energy instead of consume it.