Elon Musk says solar electric van makes more sense than Cybertruck

TruckElectric

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Tesla boss Elon Musk says the Cybertruck could have solar panels as part of its features, but admits that a solar electric van would make “a little more sense”.

A Tesla electric van has been touted before – even though in 2018 Musk ruled one out until Tesla got a few other priorities out of the way, such as the Model Y, the Roadster, the Tesla Semi and what was then known only as “the pickup“.

Sitting down once again with popular podcaster Joe Rogan, the visionary entrepreneur mused on the pros and cons of powering Tesla’s futuristic, angular tank-style vehicle with power harvested only from solar panels on its body.

It’s not possible, said Musk, unless it is not driven often, because you would get less than 20km range per day from the panels.

“You possibly put the cover of the truck bed, put some solar cells in there, so you could just leave it out in the sun,” said Musk in the podcast released on Thursday night (US time). But not more than that, says Musk.

“There’s about 1 kilowatt per square metre of solar energy, you’re going to get maybe 20-25% efficiency …. assuming you’re facing the sun or not.

“You add all those things up and say what are you really going to get…. if you could do ten miles a day you’d be lucky,” he said.

Unless there is some kind of folding solar array on the roof …. which is where the shape of a van starts to make a little more sense, says Musk.

“A van, because you’ve got a big flat area, that’s actually where solar could start to make a little more sense because you could have a lot of area.

“You could have a roof that is solar and when it’s stationary [the awning] goes out and provides shade and tripes your area,” Musk said.

“Then you triple your area and you’ve got a big flat surface, maybe you could start having charging enough that you get 30 miles a day.”

It’s an interesting concept – and one that takes the Sion solar van being planned by German start-up Sono Motors, which is estimated to harvest up to 34km range per day from the sun, one step further.

Musk noted that more than 30 miles (48km) is not really possible – at least not at a price that is affordable, as was previously noted by UNSW solar research Ned Ekins-Daukes as reported by The Driven in 2020.

While the maximum theoretical efficiency of solar panels tops out at around 40% (cells used on the high-tech solar Airbus Zephyr aircraft are 35% efficiency, for example), the cost for a passenger vehicle is prohibitive.

“For a big price increase… you’re talking about for practical purposes …. ten times the cost at least,” said Musk.

Even so, a solar electric van with standard 25% efficiency panels would certainly be an attractive proposition for those who like to go camping, Rogan notes.

Or even, Musk jokes, for those needing to in more extreme events.

“Even if the apocalypse came around you could still drive,” he said.

bridie.jpg
Bridie Schmidt

Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.

SOURCE: THE DRIVEN








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Diehard

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I don't need 30 miles a day. Give me 5 and I'll be happy.

-Crissa
I consider it a security feature.
Let’s say due to some unforeseen circumstance, you have to push your truck to it’s limit in Arizona and run out 500 feet from a supercharger It is nice to know that you don’t have to call for help and can lower that mid gate, take a nap, wake up and juice up.
 

Crissa

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I have literally run out of gas in the driveway of a gas station (I'd planned to fuel there, specifically) three times in my life and I've ended up on the side of the road twice.

Only once with my Zero, but you gotta know the limits ^-^

-Crissa
 

CTM

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My Interpretation of the conversation was that Joe wanted to hear about some solar magic coming that would super charge and Elon was like no, its about surface area. A Cybervan with solar roof and awning would be sweet paired with starlink for a rustic camping solution. Stay out at the hot springs for a week, run your gear and charge up enough to make it to town for groceries:) Vans rule!
 

Diehard

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My Interpretation of the conversation was that Joe wanted to hear about some solar magic coming that would super charge and Elon was like no, its about surface area. A Cybervan with solar roof and awning would be sweet paired with starlink for a rustic camping solution. Stay out at the hot springs for a week, run your gear and charge up enough to make it to town for groceries:) Vans rule!
CT’s top may not be flat like a van but it does have as much surface area. Even the glass could potentially be used to collect sun juice:

https://www.solarwindow.com/
 

azjohn

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I have literally run out of gas in the driveway of a gas station (I'd planned to fuel there, specifically) three times in my life and I've ended up on the side of the road twice.

Only once with my Zero, but you gotta know the limits ^-^

-Crissa
I am one of those who when i get to half a tank in my truck I am thinking of getting gas and when I reach 1/4 tank I have to get gas now. Kinda like Ron White saying when he is down to a 1/4 ounce of weed, he is out of weed
 

Diehard

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I am one of those who when i get to half a tank in my truck I am thinking of getting gas and when I reach 1/4 tank I have to get gas now. Kinda like Ron White saying when he is down to a 1/4 ounce of weed, he is out of weed
I am more like Crissa. I always try to minimize the number of stops at gas station. Excitement is not always on purpose though. Once I left my wallet at home and to get back, I had to hypermile in the city by minimizing the use of breaks and time at stop lights. The number of birds I received on that trip exceeds my total for the rest of my driving life. Ran out of gas at the station near my house. Walked home, got the wallet and took care of business. Now that I am older and in possession of even less of my original marbles, I need a solar panel, a generator or some sort of backup plan to make it to the next supercharger with my CT.
 

azjohn

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I am more like Crissa. I always try to minimize the number of stops at gas station. Excitement is not always on purpose though. Once I left my wallet at home and to get back, I had to hypermile in the city by minimizing the use of breaks and time at stop lights. The number of birds I received on that trip exceeds my total for the rest of my driving life. Ran out of gas at the station near my house. Walked home, got the wallet and took care of business. Now that I am older and in possession of even less of my original marbles, I need a solar panel, a generator or some sort of backup plan to make it to the next supercharger with my CT.
The hypermiling reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Kramer goes on a test drive for a car with a salesman wants to see how low they can get gas level down and how stressed out the salesman was getting
 

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I used to install solar arrays for a living on both roof tops and ground mounts... with the technology of today Elon is very much correct that it is of minimal practical use for something like the CT, assuming you only had the tonneau cover's surface area to work with. You could use it to keep the car at a full charge if you were to leave it in a parking lot for a week, so it would be useful in the sense of battery drain, but not really for adding significant miles.

That said, similar to the "solar awning" sliding out on a van, you could have a foldable solar array in the truck bed, that pulls up/slides out to give you 2-4x the surface area, but it would be a bulky set up and essentially render your truck bed useless for anything else, especially camping... It could certainly be something an aftermarket company could make though, have it slide in and secure to the bed... Someone made a CGI rendering of exactly what I'm talking about, albeit their CGI version was a little more robotic and extreme
 

Diehard

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I used to install solar arrays for a living on both roof tops and ground mounts... with the technology of today Elon is very much correct that it is of minimal practical use for something like the CT, assuming you only had the tonneau cover's surface area to work with. You could use it to keep the car at a full charge if you were to leave it in a parking lot for a week, so it would be useful in the sense of battery drain, but not really for adding significant miles.

That said, similar to the "solar awning" sliding out on a van, you could have a foldable solar array in the truck bed, that pulls up/slides out to give you 2-4x the surface area, but it would be a bulky set up and essentially render your truck bed useless for anything else, especially camping... It could certainly be something an aftermarket company could make though, have it slide in and secure to the bed... Someone made a CGI rendering of exactly what I'm talking about, albeit their CGI version was a little more robotic and extreme
What do you think about Thin-film solar panels? each type has pros and cons. Do you think any of them is practical for CT application as you described?
 

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What do you think about Thin-film solar panels? each type has pros and cons. Do you think any of them is practical for CT application as you described?
I don't have much knowledge about thin film panels, I primarily just dealt with the large format 350W-ish panels which are already just about the size of the tonneau cover. I truly hope that solar panel efficiency can be improved, but given the lack of improvement over the last few years my guess is that it will require some sort of re-approach to the design entirely in order to soak up more of those sweet sweet rays
 

FutureBoy

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I don't have much knowledge about thin film panels, I primarily just dealt with the large format 350W-ish panels which are already just about the size of the tonneau cover. I truly hope that solar panel efficiency can be improved, but given the lack of improvement over the last few years my guess is that it will require some sort of re-approach to the design entirely in order to soak up more of those sweet sweet rays
Or perhaps we need someone like Elon to concentrate everyone's mind. Tesla has certainly accelerated battery technology in general. Partially because they have been doing their own research and development. But by vastly expanding what people believed could be done with batteries it has concentrated the research efforts of others to make great progress.

And don't even get started with SpaceX. I'm guessing that a big part of Jeff Bezos stepping down from Amazon is that he wants to get better leverage over at Blue Origin to try and at least keep up with SpaceX. Even beyond that though, the whole marketplace of private space companies is currently being defined and expanded by the efforts of SpaceX in my opinion.

There have been good strides on the solar energy collection front over the last few decades. But perhaps as the Tesla solar roof and associated tech get improved and further deployed it will also concentrate the efforts of other companies. There are a variety of different technologies being explored for solar. What will make the greatest breakthroughs and advances? We will have to see.
 

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Or perhaps we need someone like Elon to concentrate everyone's mind. Tesla has certainly accelerated battery technology in general. Partially because they have been doing their own research and development. But by vastly expanding what people believed could be done with batteries it has concentrated the research efforts of others to make great progress.

And don't even get started with SpaceX. I'm guessing that a big part of Jeff Bezos stepping down from Amazon is that he wants to get better leverage over at Blue Origin to try and at least keep up with SpaceX. Even beyond that though, the whole marketplace of private space companies is currently being defined and expanded by the efforts of SpaceX in my opinion.

There have been good strides on the solar energy collection front over the last few decades. But perhaps as the Tesla solar roof and associated tech get improved and further deployed it will also concentrate the efforts of other companies. There are a variety of different technologies being explored for solar. What will make the greatest breakthroughs and advances? We will have to see.
I'd say you're spot on... The solar problem may just be that people are not stepping back outside the box enough to take a fresh look at it. I'm sure people are, to be fair, but so far it's been less than impressive on the innovation front. 25-30% efficiency is far from mind blowing
 

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Elon's wrong.

The truck is sitting out there in the sun. Having the panels would not only counteract vampire drain, they'd be more efficient than charging from panels sitting on the house. And they'd always be there, plugged into a battery, into something which needs to heat or cool itself, that's always using power.

The more panels the better, but there's no reason really to not use surfaces for solar, if those surfaces are plugged into a battery.

-Crissa
 

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