Panasonic's EV Solar Roof Gives New Meaning To Having A 'Sunroof'

Panasonic has already added solar panels to electric vehicles, and that could provide the best answer to range issues. Partnering with Tesla may bring a solar rooftop option to the Model 3 that provides battery charging in a sleek design.


May 23 2019, Updated 10:36 a.m. ET

With the limited range being the biggest drawback in electric vehicles, manufacturers are juggling a number of solutions to make them more like normal cars. Some solutions involve charging up the vehicle faster with more power output, for example, while another involves replacing the battery like you would a remote control. The newest, and perhaps most viable method as the tech continues to improve, suggests that incorporating solar panels into the roofs of electric vehicles could add significant range to cars, with little to no additional effort from users.

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In general, photovoltaic cells are getting cheaper, and it’s had a big effect in the solar energy industry. Interestingly, something that hasn’t been tapped into very much commercially yet are these panels being installed on top of cars. Panasonic has been one of the more aggressive companies in this field and have already creating solar panels with a capacity of 180 watts for the Japanese version of the newest Toyota Prius hybrid. It adds roughly 3.7 miles of range when parked outside, according to a CleanTechnica report.

Shingo Okamoto, who was behind creating the technology for vehicles at Panasonic, told Bloomberg that this sector of the solar industry will thrive, explaining, “Car roofs have the potential to become a new market for solar panels. We made history in the auto industry and in the solar industry with the sun powering mass-produced cars for the first time in the world.”

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave us another way to look at solar panels when presenting his new solar roof earlier this year. The tiles themselves have embedded photovoltaics to create a better looking home. From the perspective of someone walking by, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a solar and traditional rooftop. Similarly, having a sleek design that can draw even more power on top of an EV would be a huge draw.

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With a partnership between Panasonic and Tesla, we could be seeing the new Model 3 with a solar roof. Musk said that the company would “probably offer that as an option” in a reply tweet. No further information has been revealed and there are no mentions about a solar rooftop on the Model 3 specifications page. However, a month before Musk’s tweet, both companies announced their partnership and Panasonic is working at the Buffalo Gigafactory.

Other companies are looking to get into the action, as well. Nissan, who manufactures the second-most popular EV, the Leaf, already features a solar panel on the rear spoiler. It’s limited to activating the 2017 model’s accessories. In the future, they’ll likely upgrade this technology to compete with Tesla and Toyota. The Prius actually included a solar roof back in 2009, but that only charged the ventilation systems according a report from EV Annex.

Solar rooftops on electric vehicles look to be the best answer in battling range drawback. The technology is continuing to improve and it's no surprise that the great minds behind Panasonic and Tesla are taking advantage of it.


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