The electric car has made a breakthrough thanks to its ever-growing range. Lightyear One  one of the first commercially available car with a substantial contribution of solar power  makes the next breakthrough imminent. The self-charging solar car was developed with TNOs technological know-how and will be launched commercially this year.

Would you like to know more about solar-powered cars?

Please contact Bonna Newman


Recently TNO's Bonna Newman and other experts were on the Dutch programme 'Tegenlicht'. They talked about the future of solar vehicles. If you have missed the show you can view it here.

The seed for the Lightyear One was sown in 2013 by students from Eindhoven University of Technology. That year, they won the World Solar Challenge in Australia with ‘Stella’, their fully solar-powered passenger car. 

Image from VPRO. Photographer Pim Hawinkels

Curved solar panels

TNO is contributing to the further development of solar-powered cars, initially through the effective integration of solar cells into curved components such as the roof, bonnet and tailgate. The shape is an important prerequisite for the Lightyear One’s aerodynamic design. The car (which has a range of over 725 kilometres) is now fitted with bi-directionally curved solar panels with a surface area of five square metres, which refuel the car with sunlight both when stationary and when driving. This provides up to 30 kilometres of extra range per day. Lightyear has also applied TNO technology in an after-market solar roof demonstration for Tesla Model 3 and has created a prototype for VW Crafter LCV van.

Perfecting the technology

The collaboration between Lightyear and TNO focuses on further improvements and the next generations. TNO provides the knowledge to further perfect the integrated solar power technology. During the design of the solar roof, the experts take into account the technical possibilities of the PV modules as well as the technical requirements of the car manufacturers, the legal safety requirements and the wishes of the consumer. One of the goals is to make the solar panels lighter and even more energy-efficient. Using TNO technology, Lightyear can integrate the solar cells into the production process more easily and effectively. 

Trucks and buses

Solar panels can now be found also on the roofs of trucks and buses. The roof is the right spot for it, especially given the large surface area. Large trucks can fit as many panels as the average house. TNO is investigating which materials are the most suitable, how these can be mounted and constructed, and how the solar roofs can be produced most efficiently. The transport sector and manufacturers have high expectations for this application, which will lead to major cost savings and a substantial reduction in CO2 and harmful substances. This will also enable trucks to comply with the requirements of environmental zones within inner cities. 

Future design system

While research continues to further increase the yield of solar panels in cars, TNO is already working on a future design system that will allow manufacturers to calculate the most efficient way to produce a new solar roof design from the building blocks (the solar cells), as well as its yield.

Charging station with solar panels

Charging infrastructure

In the energy system of the future, the electric cars in our country will form an essential part of the total energy storage. The total of the batteries in electric cars will form a substantial storage capacity that can be used to match electricity supply and demand. To this end, TNO is investigating the optimal design of the charging infrastructure. This charging infrastructure will then have two functions: traditional charging (which will remain necessary as solar energy from just the vehicle will never be sufficient) and the opportunity for private car owners, for instance, to sell via the grid during times of scarcity a part of their power that was purchased at a low price point. TNO is working on the architecture of future energy networks. This involves a good balance between sufficient capacity, flexibility and costs. In Eindhoven, together with power grid operator Enexis and ElaadNL, we have demonstrated how an energy system with electric cars can work in practice. Charging stations can also be fitted with solar panels so that the solar energy generated can be used directly in the charging station.


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Dr Bonna Newman

  • PV Modules