When you think of solar powered cars, you probably think of something that looks like a giant eraser on four bicycle wheels, something that a pit crew has to bolt the canopy on to once the driver, probably in some sort of recumbent position is in the single seat. And then it gets up to a blistering 32 miles per hour on some perfectly flat desert test track, leaving you with the impression: Nice science experiment, but I can't really see myself driving one to the grocery store any time in the next few decades. Well, in the past few years things in the solar powered car world have changed a little. No, there aren't solar powered SUVs rolling off the assembly line anywhere, but there are some forward-looking people who have taken on the challenge of making a solar powered vehicle that's actually practical, something that you might actually buy if it was available.
Daniel Theobald, the CTO of a healthcare IT company called Vecna Technologies, has, in his spare time, retrofitted a 1966 Volkswagen bus and converted it to electric power with a large solar panel on its roof. You can see Daniel in his solar powered bus cruising the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Theobald bought the bus in 2013, and since completing the modifications, he's been using it for short trips within the city.
Theobald's original idea was to turn the bus into a plug-in electric car, which he did, but then he realized that by mounting a solar panel on the roof of the bus, he could cut out the middle man and lower his carbon footprint even further. According to Theobald, with the solar panel installed, he's never had to plug the bus in.
In 2013, a group of students from the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands built a solar-powered car for the biennial World Solar Challenge race held in Australia. Called Stella, the Dutch university team, which goes by the name Solar Team Eindhoven, built the vehicle with the idea of creating something that somewhat resembles a conventional family car. This year they've improved on their Stella concept with their most recent solar car, the Stella Lux. It's a four-seater and it can get up to about 77.6 miles per hour. And come on, maybe you do 80 on the freeway, but do you ever really need to go faster than that? The Stella Lux actually produces more electricity than it uses. You can plug it in and feed electricity back into the grid, effectively making it a mobile source of renewable energy.