Why Hyundai’s solar car roof isn’t as dumb as it sounds
The roof of the new hybrid Hyundai Sonata has solar cells integrated into it. The automobile may increase its range by 3–4 miles after frying in the sun all day. Although it may seem unimpressive, my EV discharges far more than 3–4 miles per day when it is parked and doing whatever other tasks a Tesla does when it is not being driven around. Given its power use even while doing nothing, I can only infer that it is becoming emotionally conscious, having its own thoughts, and composing love haikus to Elon Musk.
As stated on Hyundai’s website, “The Sonata Hybrid’s solar panels have a capacity of 204W to be precise; that is, panels exposed to the Sun in excellent sunlight would create 200Wh of power.” True, 200W is little, but in the world of electric automobiles, 200W is not spectacular. A 50-amp circuit breaker high-speed house charger can charge at 9.6 kW, which is over 50 times quicker than the pitiful Sonata solar cells baked into the roof.
Do the math, and it comes out that you’re fortunate to add 2.5 miles per day to your range, contrary to Hyundai’s claim that “charging for 5.8 hours per day adds 1,300 km per year to the overall driving distance.” It may be argued that taking a walk would be better for the environment, your health, and the overall sanity of the transportation system if you are physically fit and your commute is 2.5 miles or less. It wouldn’t be terrible if the car you parked had the same or slightly more battery power after a few days of sitting around idle, even if weather patterns prevent you from adding a large number of miles’ worth of range to your automobile. However, many individuals drive less than 2.5 miles each day.
An increase in fuel economy of around 8% results from 800 more miles of free driving in a world where the typical driver logs 10,000 miles annually. In every world, you always accept an offer of a discount of 8%. This all adds up to actual figures if you also borrow a page from the hypermiling playbook.
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It’s difficult to tell if the added expense and complexity of the roof will ultimately save money (or even the environment), but I believe there is a principle at stake: Every vehicle has a few square feet of space on the hood, boot, and roof that isn’t being utilized for anything “useful.” If it can cut energy use overall by 8–10%, adding all the vehicles with battery storage (EVs, hybrids, and others) would quickly start to add up. The Limited trim of the 2022 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which has a starting price of $35,500, has the solar roof technology.
It’s quite simple to criticize Hyundai and other companies for “greenwashing,” and maybe it’ll turn out that this is a ploy that, in the end, has a net negative impact over the course of a vehicle’s life. But I’ll tell you one thing: I’d rather drive around with a solar panel that hardly generates any power than a diesel engine that passes pollution testing while really cheating.