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  • For centuries now, countless inventors and  innovators have tried to harness the power of the  

  • Sun. Some time in the next century, solar energy  might make a large contribution to energy needs.  

  • And today, the dream of using solar energy  to power transportation is pushing automotive  

  • technology to its limits. It was right around  late 2005 where I became obsessed with the very  

  • idea of this vehicle. By building a solar caryou'll get this constraint that you're limited  

  • in the amount of energy you have. But buildingpractical solar car--one that can actually compete  

  • with fossil fuel vehicles and today's EVs--has  never really seemed possible. Until now.

  • So it started out of my garage like lots of  Southern California companies do. Aptera  

  • was really started, based on obsession with efficiency.  

  • Yeah, so actually it all started back in 2012 when  the CEO of--of Lightyear  

  • gave me a call and then he told me, yeah we're  going to participate in the World Solar Challenge.  

  • For years now, these two have been driven to  build the world's first commercial solar-powered car.  

  • Yeah, so I'm Arjo van der Ham, co-founder and  chief technology officer at LightyearMy name is  

  • Steve Fambro, and I'm the co-CEO of Aptera MotorsWhat Aptera and Lightyear are working on could  

  • revolutionize the auto industry and transform  transportation. The Lightyear One is a solar  

  • powered family car. It has five seats. It hasfive square meter solar panel. Aptera is a solar  

  • electric vehicle that has solar cells on virtually  every square meter surface of the vehicle.  

  • Now, you may have already seen solar cars with  similar out-of-this-world designs beforeBut  

  • these vehicles aren't just attention-grabbing  concept cars or experimental solar racers built  

  • for competitionThese cars are designed and  engineered for the everyday commute.  

  • Having the solar cells on the vehicle lets us park it  in the Sun and charge it while you're at work,  

  • while you're shopping, or whateverSo, if you drive 12,000 miles per year, something like that like most people do.

  • you might never have to plug it in at  allYou might just drive to work and back,  

  • and the car pretty much stays full. You can drive  about 10,000 miles a year in the Bay Area on  

  • the power of the Sun. And I think the average  person in that area drives about 13,000 miles  

  • a yearThat's already about 70% of the typical  usage. So while you can plug in to recharge these  

  • vehicles... you may well not have toWhat excites  me the most about making a commercial solar car  

  • is showing to the world that we can be much more  efficient with the energy that we have available,  

  • without having to compromise on the convenience  you get every dayYou may be thinking - Do  

  • we need a commercial solar carAfter allelectric vehicles are more popular than ever,  

  • with THREE MILLION sold globally in 2020. That's  roughly a 40% increase from the previous year!  

  • Well, unfortunately, due to the lithium-ion  batteries that they rely on and the electric grids  

  • they use to recharge, turns out - thesezero  emission vehiclesmay not be as sustainable as  

  • we need them to be. Another alternative is to have  a solar electric vehicle that reduces a nation's  

  • dependence on the grid, that uses the Sun, which  is 90 million miles away and works every day.  

  • So, how are these two automakers able to use  solar as their car's primary power source?  

  • According to Arjo, it comes down to  balancing a fundamental equationYeah, so basically  

  • it's the amount of energy you consume  per mile and the amount of energy you  

  • generate each year from the Sun. And if you take  a relatively traditional car, it's like this, so  

  • energy consumption, energy yield. There's a big  gap. By leveraging the latest advances in solar  

  • technology, Lightyear maximizes energy yield. And  by focusing on efficiency in their car's design  

  • and engineering-- Step by step, you get the  energy consumption down. But it's still not  

  • at the same level as your energy yield. So  you also have to work on the other side.  

  • Lightyear focused on three key areas: the  powertrain, rolling resistance and aerodynamics.  

  • Focus Number One: The Power Train. So there's  four motors individually in each wheel,  

  • which means there's no longer a mechanical  drive shaft or a final driveAnd all of  

  • these mechanical components that of course  generate friction, they add weightYou  

  • can get rid of all of that. This lighter,  

  • more efficient powertrain of course also  reduces rolling resistance--Focus Number Two.  

  • Lightyear One's body and chassis are also made  of lightweight materials, like aluminum and  

  • carbon fiber allowing the five -seat, family  car to tip the scales at an estimated fourteen  

  • to fifteen hundred kilograms. Many EVs currently  on the market are nearly twice as heavy. Finally,  

  • there's aerodynamics. Lightyear One has a drag  coefficient of less than 0.2. So it's really,  

  • really low compared to five seater production  cars today on the market. Keep in mind that in  

  • coming up with this aerodynamic design, Lightyear  also had to make room for solar panels, seats and  

  • take driver and passenger comfort into accountNot the most aerodynamic shape, not the biggest  

  • solar panel area. So it's not the best in  one category, but the balance across all of them.  

  • Of course, Aptera faced the same design  and engineering challenges.  

  • Challenges they've been able to overcome thanks to the  latest advances in solar technology.  

  • One of the things thats' changed is  the efficiency of new solar cells.   

  • And the new solar cells that are  available, like the ones we use,  

  • are so efficient, they allow us to do things now  that we couldn't do 10 years ago. Like covering  

  • nearly every meter of their car's surface in solar  cells. But Aptera also focused on efficiency. An  

  • approach perhaps best exemplified by their car's  aerodynamic design. It's really the result of  

  • asking, what's the most aerodynamic shape that  you could put around two people side-by-side?  

  • And when I started thinking about buildingcar and how it would look, and how we designed,  

  • this sort of epiphany of being stuck  on the freeway and looking at all the  

  • vehicles surrounding me -- trucks, and cars, and  station wagons, and everything just looked like  

  • big bricks to me. And so getting into, why  are cars boxy? Why are they styled that way?  

  • And then, why is it necessary to do  something different if you really  

  • want to make an efficient vehicleSteve and his  team came up with a radically different design,  

  • inspired in part by the solar  racers they saw in competition.  

  • What we did is take that way of thinking asstarting point and then bring it on automotive  

  • design and say, how do we retain the  -- technical roots and the efficiencies  

  • but yet make it a commercially viable vehicleThe result: a three-wheel, two-seater car with the  

  • drag coefficient of zero-point-one-three, one that  the Washington Post compared to the BatmobileThe  

  • side view mirror--the square side view mirror  on a Ford F-150 has about the same amount of  

  • drag as our entire vehicle. Aptera's solar  electric vehicle also uses in-wheel motors  

  • as well as lightweight, composite materials  like carbon fiber and a type of fiberglass  

  • called E-Glass. Composites let you put more  structure, and more safe structure with less  

  • weight and cost than steel. The sleek designefficient powertrain, and use of lightweight  

  • materials allows for Aptera's base model to weigh  just 800 kilogramsCompared to EVs, I mean--it's  

  • fractional. One of the EVs we drove the  other day I think weighs over 6,000 pounds.  

  • To give you an example. I mean that's a tremendous amount of weight.

  • A lighter, more aerodynamic car means  less energy needed to move the vehicle.  

  • We burn about a hundred watt-hours per  mile. And -- to put that in perspective,  

  • it's-- much less than a motorcycleSoby starting with a clean sheet of paper  

  • and making something that's efficient from day  one. And making something that's powered by the  

  • Sun-- it felt like it was a way to differentiate  ourselves from anything that's out there.  

  • Everyone else is making electric vehicleswe're making solar electric vehicles.  

  • The need for clean, sustainable transportation  has never been more urgent. And with the  

  • growing realization that today's EVs  may not get us to Net Zero fast enough,  

  • maybe it's time to explore alternative solutions  to sustainable transportationShould it be  

  • something that harnesses the energy directly  from the Sun? Should it reduce our use of the  

  • grid? Should it give us more freedom and more  autonomy? That's the direction I'd like to see  

  • it go. So I do think that in the long term solar  cars will be accessible to everyone. And that's  

  • where our mission statement comes from: "Clean  mobility for everyone everywhere". That's what  

  • we want to achieve, and we see the solar car  as the opportunity to make that happen.  

  • For a deeper dive into solar cars, check  out Light Speed: Powered by the Sun,  

  • Seeker's 8 chapter learning playlist on the  technology behind the 2019 World Solar Challenge

For centuries now, countless inventors and  innovators have tried to harness the power of the  

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Forget EVs, Solar Powered Cars Are Here

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/20
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