Driving change: when solar power equals speed

Aug 23, 2017 - 4min read

Electric vehicles are already making big inroads into the mainstream. Now, a team from Australia’s University of New South Wales is pushing EV technology further than ever before with the imminent launch of their first street-legal solar-powered family sports vehicle.

The team – named Sunswift after their inaugural 1996 design – have been working tirelessly to make a solar-powered electric vehicle practical for the mass market, and made a major breakthrough in 2012 with their fifth generation vehicle: the Sunswift eVe (pictured above).

It was a noted departure from previous models, featuring a design closer to classic sports cars than the credit card-like spacecraft shape of previous iterations (see below), and the inclusion of a passenger seat where previously there had only been a restrictive cockpit.

Sunswift Ivy

But what was most impressive was the technology underpinning the concept. In July 2014, Sunswift eVe set a new FIA world record for the fastest electric vehicle capable of travelling 310 miles on a single charge of its battery – smashing the previous 45 mph record with an average speed of 66 mph and a top speed of 82 mph.

eVe was a record-breaking success precisely because of how efficiently the 4-square-meter, 800W solar array works with the 18 kWh lithium-ion battery. The photovoltaic cells generate energy while the car is in motion, increasing eVe’s range on a full charge to 500 miles.

Here it is in action: 


Once fully depleted, eight hours parked in sunlight generates enough energy for two hours of driving. Alternatively, the car can be returned to full charge in five hours by using an EV charging point. Ultimately, every 100km driven in eVe amounted to a fuel cost of approximately 15 pence.

Now, however, Sunswift’s sights are set even higher. It’s sixth generation vehicle – Sunswift Violet – is set for release in September 2017, though at the time of writing it remains shrouded in secrecy. What’s known is that Violet will bring Sunswift closer to a mass-market vehicle than ever before – with four seats and a larger, more practical design geared towards showcasing the viability of personal solar-powered travel. 


Knowing that eVe gave Tesla’s Model S a run for its money by breaking the long-distance speed record in 2014, there are high hopes the upcoming Sunswift model will make solar-powered driving a feasible reality for the mainstream.

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