James Elston

James Elston

Published June 8, 2024

Yes, solar energy is the future of travel and is reshaping the world as we know it. Pivoting towards sustainable practices and renewable energies also aligns with the UK Government’s 2050 Net Zero Strategy.

The UK’s sustainable energy capacity has increased tenfold in the last 15 years, from 5,745 megawatts in 2007 to 53,500 megawatts in 2022. These statistics show just how important sustainable energy, like solar technology, is in our quest to combat climate change and foster a greener tomorrow.

Solar energy production in the transport sector has also seen an immense shift, helping to support the move towards sustainably powering electric vehicles. 2024 estimations for the electric vehicle market are projected to reach £498.6 billion (around $623 billion) worldwide.

In this guide, we’ll cover how solar energy systems pave the way to a greener, brighter future in the transportation sector. We’ll also look at some key statistics about the current solar landscape, both nationally and internationally.

How Is Solar Energy Used In The Transportation Sector?

Solar power is increasingly being used to power electric vehicles in the transport industry.

It’s no surprise the global transportation sector has come under scrutiny in recent years, being one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The transport sector alone accounts for one-fifth of the world’s carbon emissions (CO2).

This is where solar energy technology has been paramount. Electric vehicles, buses and trains have emerged as game changers in the transportation industry, using solar energy as fuel. These “clean energy” modes of transport are an effective alternative to traditional transit methods that heavily rely on fossil fuels.

Here’s a quick breakdown of various vehicles using solar power:

Electric cars

In 2023, there was a substantial increase in the number of global plug-in electric vehicle (EV) registrations, with the Chinese EV market growing 36% year over year.

How they work

To enhance their sustainability, electric vehicles can be charged with solar power which converts sunlight into renewable energy through solar cells (photovoltaic [PV] cells). Lithium-ion or other types of batteries store the energy for later use. Specialised motors convert electrical energy into mechanical energy for propulsion.

Examples

  • Volkswagen ID3
  • Renault Zoe
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5
  • Tesla Model S

Insightful note: Some vehicles with solar panel installations, like Aptera Solar Electric Vehicle, have already been produced but they are expensive (starting from £20,000) and are not quite ready for the commercial market.

Electric buses

There are two main types of electric buses that can be powered by solar:

  1. Battery-electric buses power their electric motor via rechargeable batteries. These are charged similarly to electric cars, through a charging station or plug. There are currently around 2,700 battery-powered buses in operation in the UK.
  2. Plug-in hybrid electric buses use a battery and a small combustion engine. The batteries are charged via an electrical outlet/charging station and the engine kicks in once the batteries are depleted. There are roughly 4,500 hybrid electric buses in operation in the UK.

Insightful fact: The first solar battery-charged bus launched in Adelaide, Australia in 2003 and continues to operate today.

Electric trains

Trains adopting solar energy offer an eco-friendly solution for long-distance travel. This innovation will reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and reliance on traditional fossil fuels.

The electricity generated for solar-powered trains comes from solar panels on their roofs. The solar cells activate and propel the trains along the railways, lowering operating expenses and contributing to a cleaner environment.

At the beginning of 2023, Siemens Mobility (in partnership with the University of York and British Solar Renewables) received two contracts to explore solar power for UK railways.

Rob Morris, Siemens Mobility rail infrastructure managing director, commented: “Transportation in Britain accounts for 27% of carbon emissions and electrification of the country’s rail network is vital to transform the everyday journeys for passengers and accelerate the journey to net zero.”

What Are The Benefits Of Solar Energy Technology?

Renewable energy sources, like solar PV power, have many advantages, from energy independence to cost savings.

Energy independence

Investing in green energy reduces our reliance on fossil fuels (e.g. natural gas, diesel and petrol) and the national grid, which champions energy independence. It also reduces dependence on foreign oil and fluctuating energy prices.

Environmental impact

Renewable energy sources, like electricity generated via solar panels, release zero carbon emissions during operation, minimising our carbon footprint and overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Cost savings

Electric vehicles are much cheaper to run than mainstream petrol or diesel vehicles. Running costs are further reduced if you have your own solar panels and can take advantage of “free” sunlight for charging stations. 

Government grant eligibility

Eligible electric car owners may qualify for funding incentives through UK Government-backed EV schemes.

What Are The Challenges Of Solar Energy?

Here are a few drawbacks when it comes to solar energy systems in the transportation sector:

Initial cost

Electric cars are generally more expensive than ‘mainstream’ vehicles and car insurance premiums tend to be higher.

Limited range and charging infrastructure

The current range of electric vehicles is limited to around 250 km/150 miles which is lower than traditional fuel-powered vehicles.

Additionally, charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is still developing, with fewer charging stations than petrol stations. However, advancements in battery technology are increasing range, and infrastructure is steadily expanding to address these limitations.

Bonus read: EV Charger Installation Costs For Home.

Weather dependant

Solar panel efficiency can be affected by weather conditions, with cloudy days generating less electricity.

However, developments in solar battery technology offer better storage capacity, allowing panels to collect and store energy even on less sunny days. These advancements will help ensure consistent performance and overcome weather-related limitations.

Hybrid electric vehicles are also a popular option, as the engine kicks in when battery storage is depleted.

FAQs

How do EV chargers work?

Electric vehicle (EV) chargers work by taking electrical current from a 120 – 240 volt power source, converting alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) and using it to charge the vehicle’s battery.

Is solar technology changing?

Solar technology is constantly evolving. There have been notable advancements in the last decade, including the cost of solar generation falling by 82% since 2010. 

Are there any airlines utilising solar energy?

SWISS and the Lufthansa Group have partnered with Synhelion to develop and market ‘sun-to-liquid’ aviation fuel. This collaboration will make SWISS the first airline to use solar kerosene in the world.

Final Thoughts

The journey towards sustainable travel is well underway. Solar energy is rapidly transforming the transportation sector, offering cleaner alternatives to traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

Investing in solar-powered transport goes beyond just fuel savings; it promotes job creation, fosters innovation and reduces greenhouse gas pollution.

While challenges like limited range and weather dependence exist, advancements in solar battery technology and EV charging infrastructure are paving the way for a brighter future.

If you’d like more details on the role solar energy plays in our current economic landscape, reach out to Eco Happy today – the UK’s leading heating and solar panel specialists.

James Elston

James Elston

Boiler Expert


James Elston is the top boiler replacement and heating expert at Eco Happy. He has over 20 years of experience in the industry, focusing on Gas Safe boiler installations and offering home-heating and energy-saving solutions to homeowners across the UK. From sourcing the most energy-efficient combi boiler to providing specialist heating advice, James ensures that Eco Happy maintains the highest standards and best customer service.

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