Frequently asked questions
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What is a Small Solar Car (SSC) and where can I see them online?
We define a small solar car as a vehicle that can sustainably operate from solar energy on a sunny day, which is "small" because it is either: (1) designed for non-highway driving (2) seats three or fewer people, or (3) has three wheels.
The vast majority of small solar cars that are available globally as either a solar golf cart, or a solar tuk-tuk, bijaj or other type of solar-powered tricycle.
Example websites with various smalls solar cars are:
and many more ...
Are Small Solar Cars street legal?
A small solar car can become 'street legal' (i.e. legal to drive on city streets) when either: (A) A small solar car that is not manufactured to operate on public roads is converted to a street legal small solar car by the owner by adding the appropriate equipment, or (B) the manufacturer or supplier complies with all of the relevant regulations for supplying street-legal vehicles before sale.
Most SSCs that someone might import to the US from international suppliers will not be street legal upon arrival. Such vehicles need to be imported first as a motor vehicle not for use on public roads and then converted to a motor vehicle compliant with the relevant federal and state highway safety regulations in order to be used on public roads. These regulations vary state by State.
There is a large variety of different regulations for different variations of vehicle design and performance. We will be providing more detailed information on these issues and how to convert an imported non-public-roads SSC to a street legal SSC in the future.
Most SSC’s that are street legal will be limited to community roads and prohibited from freeways and limited access or high speed highways because of their more efficient (less than 30 mph) operational speeds.
How fast can an SSC go, and how much can it carry?
While small solar cars can be designed to travel at highway speeds, it is difficult to design them to satisfy all of the safety requirements of highway driving. Though one small solar car manufacturer is in the process of designing and manufacturing a highway speed small solar car (e.g. Aptera).
This means that the vast majority of small solar cars are designed to operate as a type of low-speed vehicle (LSV) which has a maximum speed of 25-30 miles per hour or less or as a motorized bike/trike.
The carrying capacity of a small solar car is roughly proportional to the peak power of its electric motor. Roughly speaking, a low-speed cargo vehicle can carry about 1000 pounds of load for every kW of motor power, or about three people (driver and passengers with luggage) for every kW of motor power. The relationship is the same for SSC's because a small electric vehicle can be fairly easily converted to a solar car with the same power with a minimal increase in vehicle weight.
The faster that a vehicle is designed to travel, then the power requirements for the vehicle increase with the square of the peak velocity. This means that if you increase the design speed of an SSC by a factor of two, then the peak power requirement will likely increase by a factor of 2 x 2 = 4.
This is another reason that vehicles that are designed to travel at the lower speeds of city streets are more energy efficient (besides being lighter and smaller).
What about cloudy days and nighttime?
Small Solar Cars do have batteries. These batteries typically have enough power for one to three hours of non-sunny driving. The time and range over which an SSC battery can last is a performance parameter that can be adjusted.
Also, the SSCs that we are currently testing are made with Lithium titanate (LTO) batteries which can be charged very fast. Theoretically, LTO can be fast-charged in 10 to 20 minutes, and so some designs of an SSC could be used as a simple, short-range electric vehicle that can be fast-charged from a car charger for nighttime driving.
But fast charging is a "to-be-added" feature.
We will investigate this possibility further as we grow our SSC promotion activities going forward.
But for the most part one should expect to use an SSC predominantly during the day, and more intensely on sunny days..
How much does an SSC cost and how can I buy one?
We are hoping to organize our first group purchase of SSCs for a select group of solar car enthusiasts (including you!?!?) in 2023.
We would like to sign-up and confirm our first group of purchasers in November/December of this year (2022). Sign up below in the "Small Solar Car Purchase Interest Form" if you want to be part of this first group of SSC purchasers. We will send you monthly updates and will contact you in September with more information on the specific details of the purchase process.
We think for this first batch of purchasers, a Small Solar Car will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for a three-wheeled unit, and $8,000 to $15,000 for a four-wheeled unit. The exact cost will vary depending on the power, range, and capacity of the model that is ordered, and the associated duties and shipping expenses.
You can also go online and try to order one of the SSCs currently being offered on alibaba.com or other global marketplace. As far as we know, none of those SSCs use Lithium Titanate (LTO) batteries like what we advocate. LTO batteries have a cycle life that is ten times longer than lithium ion or lead-acid which is typically used in electric cars.
We think that for durability and reliability, most SSCs really will need to use LTO batteries.
A non-street-legal solar golf cart (with lead-acid batteries) can be bought for $7,500 at solarolla.com:
Or alternatively, Aptera says you can make a reservation to buy one of their very-high-performance solar electric cars for a price of $27K to $51K at:
Or if you are in Europe, you can pre-order a small four-wheeled solar car from SQUAD:
Can I use an SSC to power my house with solar electricity?
Typically a small solar car of the type that we advocate will have several kilowatt hours of very high quality batteries for powering it when clouds pass in front of the sun or for driving in the early morning or evening. In addition, solar club cars and solar motorized bicycles have battery electronics that are simple and readily accessible to a qualified mechanic.
This means that electrical power supply capability can be added to small solar cars in the same way that Ford has added electrical power supply features to the Ford Lightening Electric truck.
An SSC will not provide as much power as a Ford Lightening truck, but the beauty of an SSC is that the power it can provide while parked in your driveway can be essentially free. If the SSC has an LTO battery, then this battery is very useful for the regulation of variable solar power for variable loads. The cycle life of an LTO battery is likely longer than 10,000 cycles, cycling the battery once or twice per day to help supply power to your house should not significantly diminish the battery lifetime of the SSC. Since battery use does not diminish battery performance, and since solar panels are already purchased with the vehicle, the clean electricity from the SSC is therefore essentially free. It should be used.
There are a lot of details yet to be worked out, but we hope to work out home integration features for SSCs eventually. This way an SSC will be able save you on your home electricity bill even when you aren't driving it. If an SSC can save the owner money both while parked and while being driven. This should increase the motivation for more people to adopt SSCs as an an essential household asset. This will help accelerate our collective transition to a clean energy economy.
How long do the batteries last and do I have to keep buying replacement batteries?
The small solar cars that we are working with are equipped with LTO batteries which have a cycle life that is 10 times longer than lithium-ion.
How they will operate as part of the power system of an SSC is as yet not fully tested.
But LTO-powered electric buses are operating in Abu Dhabi (see: https://m.chinabuses.org/news/12314.html).
So we believe that eventually, LTO batteries will prove to be reliable and very long lasting in SSCs.
Why aren't the big car companies like Ford or Tesla selling Small Solar Cars?
Large car companies have to maximize their profits. Obviously, you get larger profits by selling expensive, high performance cars to people who have lots of money.
SSCs are small, much less expensive cars that can best serve people with less money. This is unlikely to make a big Wall-Street-sized profit. This is why we are organizing a movement of "small solar cars for the people" on a non-profit basis.
How much do I help with the climate change problem if I buy and use a Small Solar Car?
On average, when you drive a regular car, you are emitting about 0.2 kilograms (almost half a pound) of fossil CO2 in the atmosphere for every mile that you drive.
Because an SSC has zero emisions, this means that for every 10,000 miles that you drive in an SSC, that decreases CO2 emissions by about 2 tons.
And if you drive an EV, that is charged with regular grid electricity in the US, then you emit about the same amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, as someone who drives an efficient gasoline car. This is because much of the electricity that you use to charge the car is generated with fossil fuels.
This means that an SSC produces the biggest benefit to the climate if you use it alot and carry multiple passengers while driving who otherwise might use another vehicle. An SSC that drives an average of two people, 100,000 miles over its lifetime will reduce CO2 emissions by about 40 tons.
Economists calculate that those 40 tons will create about $2000 of economic damage to our future world if left in the atmosphere. So the climate mitigation impact of a well-used SSC is potentially worth $2000 to the global economy. That is essentially your "donation to climate mitigation" when and if you buy and use an SSC.
And the benefits to the climate and the world economy are on top of all of the money you save from not having to buy gasoline or electricity to power your car!
Small car, big benefits!