Solar-powered cars

Integrated solar and safety

Electricity will power the next generation of transportation technology. Electric cars, buses, trucks, and other vehicles can be made more sustainable with longer ranges and more autonomy with on-board solar power. The first solar-powered cars are scheduled to hit the road in 2022 with TNO onboard.

Benefits of solar-powered cars

It’s likely that in 2025 there’ll be more than 50 million electric vehicles on the road, powered by renewable electricity sources. We've developed software modelling to demonstrate that solar cells and solar modules on vehicles can enable all kinds of developments:

  • driving up to 20,000 km per year on solar energy alone in sunny locations
  • 150 to 200 euros of direct savings on electricity costs per year
  • the possibility of not having to charge the vehicle in summer
  • reducing carbon emissions by 250 kg per year
  • 23 to 40% fewer plug-ins at charging points
  • vehicles as a smart and integrated part of the electricity grid and distribution network

Technology for Solar Mobility

With multiple companies we are working to make the 3D and curved solar panels even more energy-efficient and lighter in weight. TNO technology will enable companies like Lightyear, Sono Motors, and others to integrate the solar cells more easily and effectively into the production process. When designing the solar roof, the experts take account of:

  • the technical capabilities of the solar cells
  • the technical requirements of the car manufacturers
  • the legal safety requirements
  • the wishes of consumers

Future design

Our developments are based on both the silicon PV technology that is available today as well as thinking about the solar technology of the future like perovskites and tandems. This will enable a fast development time to ensure the best solar technology is available for solar mobility applications.

Lightyear One, een van de eerste commerciele auto's op zonnepanelen
The Lightyear One

Solar panels on lorries and buses

Solar panels can now be seen on the roofs of lorries and buses. The roof is eminently suitable due to its large surface area and big lorries can fit just as many solar panels as an average house. We’re now investigating which materials, construction, and methods for securing the panels are the most suitable. And how we can produce the solar roofs most efficiently. The transport sector and manufacturers have high expectations for this technology, which should result in cost savings and lower emissions of CO2 and hazardous substances like diesel particulate. This will also enable lorries to meet the requirements for environmental zones in city centres.

Lorry with solar panels on the roof.

Electric vehicles in the energy system

Electric vehicles will probably be an important part of total energy storage in the energy system of the future. This is because the amount of energy from the batteries of all electric cars together is considerable. It can be used to match supply and demand. We’re investigating how the charging structure can be optimally designed for this, with three functions:

  • Charging the car. This remains necessary, as solar energy alone will never be sufficient.
  • The sale of cheaply purchased power from private car owners to other parties in the event of scarcity.
  • Logistics and planning for electric vehicle fleets to make use of day-ahead electricity markets.

We’re working on the architecture of energy networks of the future. For example, there should be a good balance between sufficient capacity, flexibility, and costs. In Eindhoven, together with grid manager Enexis and ElaadNL, among others, we’ve demonstrated how an energy system with electric cars can work in practice. In addition, charging points could also be fitted with solar panels, as in the photo, so that the solar energy thus generated could be fed directly into the charging point.

Rapid charging point for electric cars, with solar panels.

Solar-powered car

One of the first commercially available solar-powered cars is the Lightyear One. This self-charging solar car, which will be launched on the market in 2022, is made using technologies from TNO.

The Lightyear One

The Lightyear One has bi-directionally curved solar panels with a surface of five square metres. The panels ‘fill up’ with sunlight when the car is stationary and when it’s in motion. This adds up to an extra 30 km per day to its range.

The technology of the Lightyear One is based on silicon technology, which is cost-effective and becoming ever cheaper. These solar cells are used for mass-produced conventional solar panels that are optimised for performance, service life, and safety.

One of the challenges was bending solar panels to fit the car’s bodywork. In order to follow the aerodynamic shapes, the panels are bent over 2 different axes, which is unique on the market.

In addition, back-contact foil technology ensures optimum performance of the solar panels under dynamic lighting conditions.

Curved solar panels for cars

TNO is working on solar cells that can be incorporated into curved parts, such as the roof, the bonnet, and the tailgate. The shape of the Lightyear One is an important factor in its aerodynamic design and it has a range of over 725 km. Lightyear has also applied our technology in an after-market sunroof demonstration for the Tesla Model 3 and a prototype has been made for the VW Crafter LCV van.

Solar-powered cars on TV in Tegenlicht

TNO employee Bonna Newman talked about the future of solar cars in the Dutch TV programme Tegenlicht.

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Integrating solar energy and safety

We integrate solar energy into our environment, for example in buildings, infrastructure, and cars. This creates new challenges related to safety.

Trials with new generation of solar road surfacing

18 November 2021
TNO is working on technology and constructions that incorporate solar cells in the road. Read about the longest solar bike path, among other things.

Opening state-of the-art TNO Solar Lab in Petten

15 September 2021

Ilse Zaal, executive member Economy of the province of Noord-Holland, conducted the opening of the new TNO Solar Lab at the Energy & Health Campus in Petten on 15 September. The province of Noord-Holland has invested 14 million euros in the construction and fitting out of the state-of-the-art laboratory. With this facility, the province is making a key contribution in Petten to facilitating groundbreaking research on new applications of solar energy.


20 January 2021
Within the Interreg project SUNOVATE, TNO is developing technologies to increase energy-efficiency in buildings.