Posted on June 24, 2017 by Matt Pressman
Tesla's partner, Panasonic, wants to change the roof on your car. How? According to a report from Bloomberg* yesterday, "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." Panasonic's Shingo Okamoto explains, "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)
It's reported 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)
Other 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, according to Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for the company... [and] 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 Toyota’s second attempt to outfit a Prius with a solar roof. When the Prius was released back in 2009, it 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 a Model 3 solar roof since Musk hinted last fall on Twitter. But, Panasonic and Tesla remain closely aligned. And, Panasonic is considered a world leader in solar technology — just this week Panasonic announced that their HIT Solar Module achieved the world's leading output temperature coefficient (at -0.258%/°C) resulting in a ~50% reduction in necessary power generation during hot summer months. And Panasonic is already collaborating on the manufacturing and production of photovoltaic cells and modules at Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York.
Above: Toyota explains its solar roof functionality (Youtube: Toyota Global)
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.” Hmmm... maybe we should keep an eye on the roof options once Tesla's Model 3 configurator is finally revealed.