Bloomberg yesterday reported that “Panasonic Corp. sees the future of solar on car rooftops. The Osaka-based electronics maker has started producing a 180-watt array of solar cells that can be fixed to the roof of an automobile.”
Shingo Okamoto, from Panasonic said: “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.”
Above: A look at the glass roof on the Tesla Model 3 prototype (Image: Teslarati)
Recent reports have stated that “Cars could hold the promise of a giant new market for solar panels from Panasonic, which also is partnered with Tesla Inc. in making batteries at its Gigafactory outside Las Vegas.” And it turns out that, “Tesla Chairman Elon Musk tweeted in November that his company’s Model 3 car may come with a solar roof. He’s also beginning to sell a type of roof tile for homes featuring embedded photovoltaics.”
Above: A look at Tesla’s solar roof tiles for use in residential applications (Image: Tesla)
And that’s not all, even more car companies are already getting in on the action. “Nissan Motor Co. offers an add-on solar panel option for its Leaf electric cars, giving extra charge to systems such as the air conditioners and radios”, said Nissan spokesman Nicholas Maxfield. He continues “In February, Panasonic announced that its photovoltaic module would be used on the roof of Toyota Motor Corp.’s latest Prius plug-in hybrid.”
Above: Solar panels for Toyota’s Prius plug-in hybrid (Source: Bloomberg* via Toyota)
This is actually Toyota’s second attempt at fitting the Prius with a solar roof. When they were originally released back in 2009, they had the option of a solar panel capable of producing 56 watts of power. However, it was only used to charge the ventilation systems.
That said, has Panasonic’s new solar car roof improved at all since its last iteration? “We are aware that the panels are supplying only a small amount of electricity,” said Shoichi Kaneko, chief engineer for Prius. “But this system is still a breakthrough as we are making use of the energy we would be wasting otherwise. By filling all available space with cells, it is possible to extend the range easily to 10 kilometers.”
Above: A look at the solar roof on top of the Toyota Prius PHEV (Source: CleanTechnica)
What about a solar rooftop for Tesla’s Model 3? Well… we haven’t heard much about the possibility of that since Musk hinted last fall on Twitter. But, Panasonic and Tesla remain closely aligned and Panasonic is considered a world leader in solar technology.
Panasonic is already collaborating on the manufacturing and production of photovoltaic cells and modules at Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York.
Furthermore, when the Gigafactory 2 partnership was announced last year, Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel noted that, “By working together [with Panasonic] on solar, we will be able to accelerate production of high-efficiency, extremely reliable solar cells and modules at the best cost.”
Will we see their partnership extend further? Perhaps into automotive solar roofs? At the time, Panasonic VP Shuuji Okayama commented that, “the collaboration talks will lead to growth of the Tesla and Panasonic relationship.”