Bright Future for Solar Applications in the European Automotive Industry

The market for solar technologies is still limited to advanced roof solutions that use solar cells to ventilate vehicle interiors, but technological advancements will soon shift the focus from comfort and convenience to powertrain applications and similar domains. In tandem with expanding applications, solar cell costs are expected to fall, meaning that more average customers can look forward to a ‘greener,’ less-polluting vehicle.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Executive Analysis of the Market for Solar Technology Applications in the European Automotive Industry, finds that a sunroof panel with solar cells can generate sufficient power to ventilate the vehicle interior. The technologies covered in this research service are polysilicon solar cells, thin-film solar cells and third-generation solar cells.

The automotive industry is undergoing an evolution wherein traditional internal combustion (IC) engines are ceding the way to battery-powered motors. Growing interest in electric vehicles, increased government spending on electric cars (EVs), and the numerous vehicle prototypes already in the pipeline point irrefutably towards a future dominated by EVs.

Nevertheless, EVs face lingering criticism regarding increased energy consumption. One compelling solution is to run EVs on power generated by renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar energy (photovoltaic, solar thermal). EVs of the future could be powered by electricity from a grid generated by solar power, or else at solar charging stations. Currently, solar cells are not preferred because of their high cost to power ratio. However, this ratio is likely to lessen as a result of technological advancements, rendering it more affordable for vehicle manufacturers.

"Solar cells are poised to achieve grid parity in the coming years," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Roshan Devadoss. "Subsequently, solar cells costs will plummet, making them affordable for automotive applications." Grid parity occurs when the cost of electricity generated using solar cells equals the cost of that generated using fossil or nuclear fuels. Upon reaching grid parity, solar cells will cease to be cost-intensive, leading to inexpensive automotive solutions.

One of the biggest restraints for the use of solar panels in automotive applications is added weight. Polysilicon solar panels are heavy and exert a drag on the vehicle, reducing the range and life of the battery in electric or hybrid vehicles and decreasing the fuel-efficiency in conventional cars. "Polysilicon solar panels increase vehicle weight, resulting in higher operational costs," explains Devadoss.

Apart from polysilicon cells, the only other commercially available solution is thin-film solar cells, which have caught the attention of vehicle manufacturers’ owing to their flexibility and light-weightiness. Vehicle manufacturers have developed concept vehicles with this technology and some of them are working towards production models.

One disadvantage of this technology is its low efficiency. However, mounting the thin-film solar cells is not design intensive due to its flexibility and can be used to cover larger surface areas to compensate for the drop in efficiency. "R & D has led to lighter, more flexible and robust thin film technologies and third generation solar cells, however they are less efficient than polysilicon solar cells," concludes Devadoss.

Vehicle manufactures are already investigating the use of thin-film technologies that are commercially available for advanced roof solutions and have developed concept vehicles using them. Third-generation solar cells are currently under development and will likely be deployed in the interior of the vehicle as well as on the roofs, doors and windows.

Executive Analysis of the Market for Solar Technology Applications in the European Automotive Industry is part of the Automotive & Transportation Growth Partnership Services programme, which also includes research in the following markets: European Market Analysis for Low Speed Driver Assistance Applications, Strategic Analysis of European Automotive Interior Lighting Market, Strategic Analysis of European Automotive Exterior Lighting Market, and European Automotive Original Equipment DAS, ESP, Passive Safety and Rain Sensors Market. All research services included in subscriptions provide detailed market opportunities and industry trends that have been evaluated following extensive interviews with market participants.

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