Audi wants to harness sunlight to extend the range of electric cars

Audi electric car solar panel

Sunlight could soon power the air conditioning system that keeps you cool in the middle of July. Audi has teamed up with Chinese solar cell specialist Hanergy to develop thin-film solar panels for its electric cars. That sounds like it’s straight out of a science fiction movie, but the company says it’s closer to production than it seems.

Audi is working with Alta Devices, a sub-division of Hanergy, to develop thin solar panels that can be integrated into the panoramic glass roof of a car. These state-of-the-art panels have an efficiency of over 25 percent, and are thin and flexible, so they can take on many shapes and forms. The brand predicts these panels could cover the entire surface of an electric car’s roof to harness as much electricity as possible, and will even work in low light.

The energy generated by the solar panels will flow to the car’s electrical system to power volt-hungry accessories like the air conditioning and the seat heaters. These features will in turn draw less juice from the battery pack, which will boost the car’s driving range. How much of an increase we could be looking at hasn’t been revealed yet, but every little bit helps.

“The range of electric cars plays a decisive role for our customers. Together with Hanergy, we plan to install innovative solar technology in our electric cars that will extend their range and is also sustainable,” Audi board member Bernd Martens said in a statement.

Audi predicts it will be possible to send electricity from solar panels directly to the battery pack to help provide power to the electric motors in the not-too-distant future. Solar panel technology still needs to advance before it’s possible to charge an electric car on-the-go. Figuring it out would be “a milestone along the way to achieving sustainable, emission-free mobility,” Martens added.

Audi and Hagergy plan on building the first prototype with solar panels embedded in the roof before the end of this year. The e-tron quattro concept introduced two years ago at the Frankfurt Auto Show will spawn a production model next year, so the solar roof could be ready by the time production begins.