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Sustainable Mobility: Towards a Solar Transportation Future

2024-02-07

Sustainable Mobility: Towards a Solar Transportation Future

Electric mobility is a highly debated topic in Germany. However, there is widespread agreement that an alternative to gasoline and oil must be found to make transportation more sustainable. It is foreseeable that current challenges will be addressed through technological progress in the coming years. Transitioning many aspects of life, such as mobility and heating, to electricity requires the use of renewable energy. In this context, solar energy is nearly a natural choice due to its unlimited and ubiquitous availability, requiring no subsidies.

Basics of Solar-Powered Mobility: Potential and Technologies

Solar-powered mobility, in practice, involves a combination of various elements. At its core, it revolves around operating battery-electric vehicles with solar energy. The collection and distribution of solar energy can take various forms. On a smaller scale, it is possible to equip electric vehicles directly with solar modules. However, as of now, this alone is insufficient as the sole energy source for everyday use. Nevertheless, both the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and the charging possibilities are expanding. Many supermarkets, employers, hotels, restaurants, and other facilities already provide charging stations powered by solar energy. Projects involving solar-covered parking spaces with charging capabilities are also gaining traction. The more widespread everyday charging opportunities become, the less dependence there is on so-called fast-charging stations. For daily commuting, the average driver covers less than 25 kilometers a day, and only a few exceed 50 kilometers. In total, a car in Germany is typically driven less than 40 kilometers per day. Therefore, 8 hours at the employer's charging station are more than sufficient to recharge the vehicle.

Pioneers of Solar Vehicles: Current Developments and Innovations

A group of Dutch students from Eindhoven University successfully designed and built a solely solar-powered motorhome named "Stella Vita". Demonstrating its capabilities, the students drove the motorhome 3,000 kilometers from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to Tarifa in Spain. For emergencies, the motorhome has a connection to take power from a charging station. Things that were unthinkable a few years ago are now possible due to advancing technologies and the innovative spirit of dedicated individuals. Battery weight remains a significant drawback in electromobility, but ongoing research and development efforts aim to address this issue. Overall, solar technology already plays a significant role in transportation today and is expected to do so increasingly. Energy-efficient modes of transportation are necessary for the success of the energy transition in this sector. A mix of public transportation, walking, cycling, and electric vehicles ensures an efficient balance.

Challenges on the Road to a Sustainable Transportation Revolution

The starting point for efforts towards a sustainable energy transition is the fact that transportation in Germany accounts for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the growing share of electromobility, emission numbers have hardly decreased. However, climate goals are set, and Germany is obligated to halve emissions in transportation by 2030. To achieve this goal, a massive expansion of charging infrastructure and adjustments to the power grid are necessary. Additionally, electromobility is resource-intensive, requiring special materials like rare earths and lithium for vehicle battery production.

A crucial and decisive factor is the public's acceptance of electromobility. Without public acceptance, achieving the transportation revolution will be challenging, especially if forced regulations are to be avoided. The transportation revolution poses a severe challenge for automakers, as electromobility has not yet achieved its breakthrough, while legal regulations increasingly complicate the production of traditional combustion engine vehicles.

Another point is the use of renewable energy sources. In this area too, expansion lags behind the goals and must be significantly increased for the impacts of solar energy on transportation to be noticeable. Another challenge is renewable energy-driven propulsion systems in transportation. However, there are already success stories in the truck sector. Electric trucks are already in use for short distances, and ongoing technological developments offer hope for suitable solutions in long-distance transportation in the near future.

Vision of the Future: How Solar Energy Shapes Tomorrow's Mobility

In the field of mobility, solar energy will play a crucial role. It has the potential to replace fossil fuels and significantly influence the mobility of tomorrow. Initial projects in Germany are already starting with solar-covered highways, and the supply of trucks using pantographs (current collectors) is in the research testing phase. Many other promising projects are underway, showcasing the potential impact of solar energy on the future of mobility.

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