Tesla is leading the world in the electric car industry, but the energy that powers them still has to come from somewhere. An electric car running on power from coal generators is still emitting waste. More sustainable solutions are available.
Solar panels can be used to power a Tesla. Tesla has developed solar panels designed to pair with their vehicles, though solar panels not produced by Tesla can effectively power the Tesla vehicles. Tesla ensured solar panels to be a viable alternative power source for their vehicles.
Solar panels will work, but some are better than others, and the difference in charge time can change the viability of solar as an option for some Tesla drivers. The Tesla model being charged can also impact the effectiveness of solar panels in charging.
How viable is solar as an option?
For the purpose of this question, I’m only going to present information on the 2020 Tesla Model S with its base 100 kWh battery. Current solar panels can be categorized as either low efficiency panels or high efficiency panels. Which type of panels you buy will impact whether or not solar is a good alternative for vehicle charging.
Low efficiency panels produce about 1 kWh per day per panel, meaning, that if your Model S’s battery is dead, it would take about 100 solar panels to charge the vehicle. High efficiency panels produce about 2 kWh per day, reducing the number of panels to 50, which is still way too high for the average person (Source).
If the calculation is based on the average person’s daily driving distance, about 30 miles, you find that the average Tesla driver would only use about 10 kWh per day, so only 5-10 solar panels would be needed to charge that average Tesla owner to charge their vehicle.
This means that for the average driver, solar panels are a totally legitimate option, however, someone who drives much more than average may have a harder time charging their Tesla.
These calculations simplify the transfer of energy through solar panels, and several other factors can impact whether or not solar panels will be able to charge your Tesla. The location of your home will influence how much light solar panels receive, so they may not operate at maximum efficiency, so more panels would be required.
The number of electronics you intend to power with your solar panels will also make an impact. Not only will not all energy be directed toward your vehicle, but more energy will be lost than would have been with only your Tesla being charged.
Solar for other Tesla models
Model 3: As of 2020, this is the most efficient Tesla model, making it the most reasonable to accommodate solar charging.
Model Y: While not as efficient as the Model 3, the Model Y is the second most efficient Tesla model, and requires roughly the same amount of energy for daily use that the Model S requires.
Model X: This model is the least efficient Tesla model. It is 30% less efficient than the Model 3, making it the least practical for solar panels, as it would take 7-14 individual solar panels to sustain this vehicle for everyday use.
Advantage of Tesla’s Solar Systems
Solar Panels are a good option for many people, but the plethora of options available within the solar industry can make it difficult to narrow the field. The obvious option that comes to mind is to charge your Tesla vehicle with Tesla solar panels, and there are benefits to this choice. Tesla has both a solar panel and a solar roof option available to consumers.
Tesla Solar Panels
These are high efficiency solar panels that have extreme durability and resistance to the elements. The panels are regulated by a smart computer system designed to maximize energy output from the panels. One advantage to the solar panels is the ability to purchase only as many panels as you desire, a function not available with the solar roof.
Tesla Solar Roof
Much like the solar panels Tesla offers, the solar roof is has high efficiency, and extreme durability. It too is governed by a computer system designed to maximize efficiency and energy output. Tesla’s solar roof, however, is a full roof replacement where all roof surfaces are replaced with solar panels designed to look like roofing tile.
Both options are accompanied by Tesla’s “Powerwall” which is a large compact battery. This battery can hold up to 13.5 kWh, which can be greatly beneficial for Tesla vehicle owners because their solar panels will be storing electricity that can be used to power their vehicle, even if their panels aren’t actively working.
The cost to install solar panels sufficient to power a Tesla Model S can range from as little as $1,100 to $7,000 dollars, depending on your needs, the number of panels you desire, and the areas in which you live. This is in addition to the cost of the home charging station which can cost up to $2,200
Tesla quotes prices based on location, but a 5 bedroom house in Idaho with average energy consumption is quoted at $16,000 for the entire solar panel package.
Is portable an option?
Clearly home centric solar panels offer reasonable opportunity to charge your Tesla for everyday use, but some may wonder is there is a portable option by which they can charge their vehicle. The possibility is brilliant, and the idea of having a car with unlimited range is certainly attractive, and the possibility has been explored.
People have attempted to make this work, and there are videos like the one linked below available all over the place, and all of them run into the same problem. Even high efficiency solar panels don’t produce very much energy alone, you have to combine quite a few of them.
The solar panels capable of being kept on or in the vehicle don’t have the output capacity to add a useful amount of range to the vehicle. Portable solar batteries can be used to squeeze 3-5 miles of added range out of a charge, which could be just what you need to get to a charging station, but other than that, it lacks any sort of practical application. So unfortunately, as of right now, there is no miracle solution for a portable solar charging option for a Tesla.