solar-transport

What is Solar Transportation?

Jane Marsh - April 20, 2023

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission.

A key source of renewable energy becoming highly popular for businesses and consumers is solar energy. Solar is quickly carving out its place in the transportation industry. What is solar transportation, and how will solar energy affect the transportation sector?

A Brief Overview of Solar Energy

Interest in solar energy continues to grow. According to Statista, global solar energy capacity grew from five gigawatts in 2005 to 940 gigawatts in 2021 alone. Solar remains one of the world’s most heavily funded renewable energy sources.

You may be surprised to learn that more energy from the sun falls on earth than the amount used by the world’s population in one year. Solar energy is a powerful source, considering people have used the sun to cook and warm their homes for centuries.

Every location on the planet receives some amount of sunlight, though it varies. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are the most common form of solar energy and they convert sunlight directly into usable electricity. However, solar PV cells can actually be incorporated into smaller items, such as watches, calculators and other electronic devices. 

The other common types of solar technology are concentrated solar power (CSP), also known as solar thermal energy, and solar heating and cooling (SHC). Solar heating & cooling (SHC) systems use the heat from the sun to provide space or water heating, such as in homes, schools or businesses. CSP energy is commonly used to run traditional, electricity-generating turbines in power plants.

The Role of Solar in Transportation

Solar power holds much promise regarding reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Rising GHG emissions are responsible for global warming, which is causing the climate crisis we’re currently facing.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimated that the transportation sector accounted for 27% of total GHG emissions. This was the largest share of emissions, with industry coming in second, accounting for 24%. It’s clear that the global transportation sector could significantly lower GHG emissions if it transitions to clean, sustainable energy sources. Solar power is no exception!

Although solar power is becoming more popular worldwide, it is still in its infancy in transportation. In other words, solar transit has yet to take hold. Some countries leading the transition to solar transportation include the U.S., Japan, China, Germany and India.


How the Transportation Sector Could Benefit From Solar

When you think about it, transportation is a part of the fabric of society. Imagine if this aspect of living solely relies on clean, renewable energy. This would vastly improve the planet’s health and ensure a safe and sustainable environment for future generations.

Let’s explore some of the potential solar-powered modes of transportation that could make these much-needed changes possible. 

Cars and Buses

Millions of people around the world use cars and buses. While manufacturing vehicles that run solely on solar power is a major obstacle, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. 

For example, Sonos Motors Sion introduced a solar electric vehicle (SEV) in L.A. in October 2022. The SEV has solar panels on its exterior to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. It’s only $25,000 and releases zero emissions.

Bikes and Scooters

E-bikes and e-scooter are becoming increasingly popular among consumers and solar experts are looking for ways to incorporate solar into their designs. 

According to Allied Market Research, the solar e-bike market is expected to grow, reaching a total of $1.66 billion by 2030. Solar e-bikes primarily use solar PV panels, battery packs and nano solar cells to power riders on their journeys.

Planes

Companies like Airbus and Solar Impulse are leading the charge regarding electrified planes. In 2015, the founders of Solar Impulse — Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg — completed a flight throughout the night on a solar airplane. 

The plane flew 40,000 kilometers successfully, breaking records and becoming the first solar plane prototype to cross the planet’s two biggest oceans. 

Boats

Solar-powered boats are another form of transportation that can help facilitate the industry’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. These boats are quiet, produce no carbon emissions, can sail great distances and do not rely on fossil fuels. 

A few companies in the solar-powered boat market are Silent-Yachts, Solar Boats USA, Soel Yachts, Wayward Sun and Electra Craft. 

Trains

The world’s first fully solar-powered passenger train in Australia has completed 10 six-kilometer journeys per day for the past five years. Solar panels on the train’s storage shed roof generate enough electricity to power the train and return energy to the grid. 

The array of panels can generate 30kW and is connected to the train’s batteries. The train also has curved panels capable of generating 6.5kW of solar power.

Benches and Bus Shelters

Aside from the common modes of transportation, other aspects of the industry can incorporate solar power. Bus shelters and the benches riders sit on can also leverage solar power. For example, solar-powered benches illuminate at night and can be placed in front of airports, train stations, parks and other areas. 

Bus shelters are becoming smarter and using solar power, too. There are already solar-powered bus shelters protecting commuters in countries like Brazil, Canada, Australia, France, China, Singapore and India, according to EnGoPlanet.

Streetlights

Lastly, streetlights are essential to modern transportation and are starting to become solar-powered. The global solar street light market was valued at $5.78 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.40% over the next five years. 

Solar street lighting is more affordable than traditional lighting systems, more sustainable and requires less maintenance. More lighting in dark areas may help reduce the frequency of accidents in the transportation sector because well-lit areas enable drivers to see better while traveling at night.

Solar-Powered Transportation is the Future

Solar transportation is considered the transportation of the future, as it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and minimizes outdoor air pollution levels. Think about how many public transportation systems there are across the globe. Citizens in every country, state, city, town or village use one or more transportation forms to get from one place to another. 

The transportation sector must find ways to reduce GHG emissions, as they harm the environment and contribute to the climate crisis. Generating electricity from the sun is only one small aspect of the clean energy transition, but it’s also cost-effective and can improve the health of the planet we call home.


Get the latest updates on our planet by subscribing to the Environment.co newsletter!

About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.