In a bid to reduce its reliance on imports, the Indian government is looking at various alternative energy vehicles. A report from zeebiz.com says that a new policy to promote solar car manufacturing in India is in the works.
Three government bodies, namely Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Ministry of Finance, are drafting a policy for pushing solar car manufacturing in India. Automakers are likely to get tax concessions and subsidy as well as other perks like low-cost power, attractive credit and land lease at discounted rates to set up solar car plants, a source has told the business publication.
The immediate plan is to establish a committee that can form a proposal for the Solar Car in India and submit it to the Prime Minister’s Office. The government is serious about launching a solar car policy. As for the role of the above ministries in drafting the policy, the finance ministry will chalk out the tax sops and credit cost, the renewable energy ministry will work on the subsidy and low-cost power aspects, and the heavy industries ministry will figure the terms of the land lease at discounted rates.
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Solar energy is used only as a secondary source and that’s the role automakers see it playing for the foreseeable future. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid HEV and the Toyota Prius Prime (Toyota Prius PHV) PHEV are available with a solar roof option in North America and South Korea and Japan and Europe respectively, and they only provide a little assistance in charging the car’s battery. EVW finds expert reviews terming the option as style statement and one that delivers differentiation than real benefits.
Solar panel cells have a very low level of efficiency. In the case of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s solar panel’s cells, for instance, the efficiency rate is just 22.8%. The efficiency of typical cells companies use for rooftop panels is worse – 15-19%, as per Hyundai Motor Group’s findings.
According to Hyundai Motor Group’s tests, dead leaves, dust, rain, etc. on the roof can result in a 3-10% energy loss, which is prevalent in Indian conditions. To ensure that the charging function remains intact, one must see to it that the roof is in a clean condition and fully exposed to sunlight at an optimal angle.
Hyundai says that its solar panels on the Sonata’s roof adds 1,300 km per year if the car is exposed to sunlight constantly for around 6 hours a day. In India, sub-4m cars take up the bulk of sales and the real estate they offer on the roof is much lower, leading to lower projected gains. India has an abundance of sunlight and harnessing the power of the sun could help in assisting the car’s auxiliary systems, but the cost is still on the higher side with Hyundai asking USD 1,100 (Rs. 80,971) for the optional extra, and Toyota, a cool USD 2,550 (Rs. 1.87 lakh).
Sono Sion & Lightyear One Solar Car
Though solar energy has low efficiency, some auto companies are increasing their focus in the area believing it can be a good secondary source to boost the range of electric cars. Consider the Sono Sion, for instance, which has a body made entirely of solar panels and can travel 34 km longer every day and Lightyear One, which does 12 km/hr on solar power thanks to its massive solar panel installation. Note that both startup companies have not commercially launched the solar car models. Homegrown company Mahindra Electric showed the improved Treo three-wheeler with a solar roof at the Auto Expo 2020. EVW understands that Mahindra’s testers managed around 26 km of extra range on a sunny day.
The new policy could motivate automakers to incorporate solar energy tech into their electric cars in India and market the small range gains. However, don’t expect a revolution, at least not until cells are localised and breakthroughs are made in increasing the solar cell efficiency.