By on October 31, 2018

Image: Hyundai

Imagine a parked vehicle that slowly sucks dino juice from vast, underground deposits through its tires. That’s essentially what Hyundai Motor Group wants to do with its vehicles, the only difference being the energy source and the direction it’s coming from.

Despite being talked about for years, solar roofs on automobiles haven’t seen widespread adoption. Cost, practicality, and rollover safety concerns mean the largest user of the technology is the Japanese and European-market Toyota Prius Prime. Now, Hyundai wants to go solar in a big way, starting next year.

The automaker wants buyers to know that solar roofs aren’t useless for regular, gas-swilling vehicles, either.

There’s three solar charging systems under development, Hyundai Motor Group claims, targeting electric, hybrid, and ICE Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Obviously, the largest benefit of a roof containing a photovoltaic array is that EV or PHEV vehicles can charge themselves while parked, eliminating some of the need to plug into an electric grid. While the amount of current headed to the car’s battery wouldn’t be large, it would make a difference.

Without mentioning the markets where it plans to offer the technology, Hyundai said the first system — applied to hybrids — will become available in 2019. It didn’t mention models, either, but Hyundai’s Ioniq and Kia’s Niro seem like likely candidates. There’s also the Sonata and Optima to consider.

In a hybrid model, the solar roof can apparently top up a propulsion battery by 30 or 60 percent over the course of a day. Depending on vehicle, the technology might also make it to the hood, boosting the amount charging power. The maximum generation capacity of these systems is 100 watts.

Using a Ioniq Hybrid as an example, a max generation solar array operating under optimal conditions would top up the car’s 1.6 kWh battery to the tune of 50 percent in eight hours, though a smaller, roof-only system would mean less charge. A plug-in hybrid variant would likely need more than a week to fully charge its 8.9 kWh battery. As for the 28 kWh Ioniq Electric, well, you’d best bring that charging cord.

A system designed solely for use with conventional gas-powered cars would utilize a semi-transparent roof and send current to the car’s battery. This would be great in cold climes, assuming the sun peeks above the horizon (or through the clouds), though you’d also want some kind of insulation beneath that roof.

Whether we’ll see this technology in North America remains to be seen. Road safety regulators put the kibosh on the solar-roofed Prius after it was determined the panel would shatter during a rollover. Hyundai says its panels are made of silicon, though its crashworthiness isn’t yet known. That said, if solar isn’t a go, something else might show up to generate a money-saving charge (likely at an additional expense to the buyer).

Jeong-gil Park, the automaker’s engineering chief, said solar panels are not the extent of its electricity-generating tech.

“In the future, we expect to see many different types of electricity-generating technologies  integrated into our vehicles,” Park said in a statement. “The solar roof is the first of these technologies, and will mean that automobiles no longer passively consume energy, but will begin to produce it actively.”

[Images: Hyundai]

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18 Comments on “Hyundai, Kia Aiming for Solar Roofs Starting in 2019...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is a feature designed to extract money from the technically illiterate.

    • 0 avatar
      salmonmigration

      I was on a solar car team in college. Even if solar panels were 100% efficient, which they aren’t, it would still not be a practical way to power a 2-ton vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Can you quantify this?

      I was thinking of how a car interior heats up on a sunny day, there must be a fair amount of energy available. If it can be generated over half the 95% of the time cars are not used, even better. Factor in the steadily improving performance of the panels…

      On the other hand it would make more sense to put correctly-angled flat panels on roofing over parking, and use that to charge the cars. Parking roofs would also keep interiors cooler.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      As noted in the article, H/K are implementing solar panels in 3 steps.

      Now, would the cost to benefit be worth it to early adopters aside from feeling they are doing something for the environment/feeling they are on the cutting edge of tech?

      Probably not.

      But over time, the cost will come down.

      This, however, is likely another signal portending H/K’s move to a 48V system.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Not necessarily. The point isn’t to replace a wall plug or eliminate the ICE in a hybrid. It’s to repeatedly provide a little extra juice without any recurring cost.

      Toyota (and others) have been engineering motors around 0w-16 (and looking into 0w-8) motor oil for the extra 2% increase in efficiency over 0w-20.

      So we see the lengths automakers are going to get a 2% increase in performance of one metric. Adding a large-ish solar panel to the roof of a hybrid or plug-in electric could easily add 2% or more in the same metric.

  • avatar
    James2

    I remember a few cars (Mazda 929?) trying something like this, only less ambitious, like just trying to power a fan to cool the car while it sat.

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      Yes, we had a car that used solar power (in the sunroof?) to run some sort of air circulation device. I was thinking it was an Audi, but we also had a Mazda around that same time.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      Wasn’t it the Mazda Millennia? For some reason, that stands out.
      Currently, it’s just a couple of Audis, the Prius plug-in, and Nissan Leaf.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I had a Leaf SL with the little solar panel on the roof. It took some digging to find out, but I believe it generated about 5 or 10 watts.

        My calculations at the time showed that this was enough power to move the car about 300 feet after sitting all day in the sun. My memory is rusty on this, but it was that order of magnitude.

        Rooftop solar panels seem like a great idea until you do the math and look at the cost.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          It’s to help out on the 12v side. Probably helps reduce parasitic power loss while parked and unplugged. Never measured its output.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Yes, that’s true, but since the 12V system is charged by the high voltage battery anyway, the solar panel’s ultimate goal is to increase range. Maybe it helps wear and tear on the 12V battery, but that seems like a stretch.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Another thing to get paranoid about during the spring (hail season).

  • avatar
    Dan

    “The automaker wants buyers to know that solar roofs aren’t useless for regular, gas-swilling vehicles, either.”

    No. They’re useless for regular, gas-swilling cars TOO.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Why are massive sunroofs approved while solar surfaces were banned due to shatter potential? Let alone allowing motorcycles.

  • avatar
    chris724

    The best use for this would be to cool the interior while parked in hot and sunny places. But 100W is not really enough to run a compressor.

  • avatar

    There is a reason why Tesla does not do it. Battery is gradually discharging when car is sitting in garage if you not drive it that often. But there is no Sun in garage.


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