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Toyota starts testing high-efficiency solar cells for electric cars, says could add 35 miles of range

Toyota announced today that it is starting to test new high-efficiency solar cells to be used on electric cars that could potentially boost the range by 35 miles (56 km) of range per day.

Over the years, Toyota has been trying to incorporate onboard solar panels in its electric car strategy.

It was originally an option in the Prius, but it was only a 50-watt panel used to help run the AC fans and things like that.

In 2016, the Japanese automaker brought back a $2,000 solar roof option for its new Prius plug-in hybrid and this version of the system was a little more powerful at 180 watts.

It could actually feed the battery pack used to power the car on electric-only, but it would only add a few miles.

Now Toyota has partnered with NEDO and Sharp to start public road trials that will aim to “assess the effectiveness of improvements in cruising range and fuel efficiency of electrified vehicles equipped with high-efficiency solar batteries.”

Here’s the test vehicle that they unveiled today:

The vehicle is equipped with extremely efficient solar cells that Toyota claims can convert solar power at a 34% rate.

With the hood, the roof, and the back being covered with cells, the automaker says that the solar system can generate 860 watts of power and add about 56.3 km (35 miles) of range per day.

Here are the specs in comparison with the system:

Performance items Vehicle
Prius PHV
(Solar charging system)
Demo car
Solar battery cell conversion efficiency 22.5% 34%-plus
Rated power generation output 180 W Approx. 860 W
Maximum charge to the driving battery while the vehicle is parked (per day)* BEV-mode cruising range equivalent to 6.1 km BEV-mode cruising range equivalent to 44.5 km
Maximum charge and power supply to the drivng and auxiliary battery while the vehicle is being driven (per day)* Supplies power only to auxiliary battery, which powers the car navigation system, etc. BEV-mode cruising range equivalent to 56.3 km

As you can see on the specs sheet, one of the biggest differences is that their new system can actually power the main battery pack while the vehicle is being driven.

Toyota is not talking about a timeline to commercialization yet, but it plans to test the vehicle in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Tokyo, and other areas later this month and share its findings with NEDO and Sharp in order to help bring this technology to market.

Electrek’s Take

As we always like to point out with these solar car efforts, a car’s roof is not the most ideal place to install solar cells.

They would most likely be more efficient installed on the rooftop of a home and then, you can use the power to charge your vehicle.

However, there’s something appealing about your vehicle producing its own energy and it is starting to get more attractive with the specs Toyota is talking about now.

They are not the only ones talking about high-efficiency cells starting to add some decent solar mileage to electric cars.

We recently reported on the Lightyear One, which not only claims to have a long solar range, but it also looks good with solar cells on – unlike the Toyota test car.

That’s something they are going to have to figure out if they want to bring this to production.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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