According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the first practical use of the sun's energy --- known as solar energy --- came in the 7th century B.C. At this time, humans used a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays and create fire. In 1954, photovoltaic technology was developed. This technology allowed for the conversion of solar energy into power for practical uses. Solar energy was first used for smaller electronics. As efficiency has increased, solar power's uses have advanced, including cars that run on solar power.
A small 15-inch vehicle invented by William G. Cobb of General Motors is considered the first solar-powered car. It was used to show the possibility of solar energy in the future. Solar cars have solar panels that are attached to --- or built into --- the surface of the car. They are usually made of the lightest materials possible to maximize the generated solar power. In the American Solar Challenge, competitors design, build and race solar cars a distance of about 1,500 miles.
Photovoltaic cells convert light into electricity. They use solar cells --- made of silicon --- to absorb light photons and then discharge electrons. These discharged electrons are then organized by semiconductors treated to create an electric field with a positive and a negative side. Electric conductors are connected to the positive and negative sides, creating a electrical circuit and current in which the electrons are captured as electricity. According to Future Pundit, the current record for photovoltaic cell efficiency is 42.8 percent.
Solar Car Benefits
As the technology for harnessing solar power develops, it could eliminate the need for burning fossil fuels for energy. According to Maine's Bureau of Air Quality, driving vehicles that burn oil causes more pollution than anything else an individual does on a daily basis. Auto emissions cause an increase in the environment of these harmful pollutants: hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulates. An example of a particulate is soot. Solar-powered cars would greatly reduce the amount of these pollutants in the environment.
Problems with Efficiency
Currently, solar cars are not suitable for daily use. They are expensive to produce because of the high cost of solar cells and panels. Because solar cars rely on the sun's light, they need expensive batteries to store the energy necessary to run at night and on cloudy days. Also, the solar cells themselves are not efficient enough to produce sufficient energy, and the solar collectors --- which gather the energy --- are too large for for commercial use.
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