Peter Fairley

A View from Peter Fairley

The Underwhelming Solar Prius

The optional solar roof on Toyota’s 2010 Prius may not provide a watt of mobility.

  • March 19, 2009

The solar roof that Toyota is offering as an option on its next-generation Prius hybrid sedan may be even less useful than expected, according to a report in the specialty publication EVWorld. The solar panels, reports EVWorld, will add not a microwatt of charge to drive the Prius.

A solar roof will simply ventilate the 2010 Prius.

Last summer, Technology Review looked at the potential impact of adding a solar roof to the Prius when rumors of Toyota’s plans first emerged. The clear conclusion of the experts was this: keep solar panels on rooftops, where they can be tilted toward the sun for maximum efficiency. A solar rooftop would be just a “marketing gimmick,” said Andrew Frank, a plug-in hybrid pioneer at the University of California, Davis, and chief technology officer for UC-Davis hybrid-vehicle spinoff Efficient Drivetrains.

Toyota, it turns out, won’t even bother plugging its solar rooftop panel into the 2010 Prius’s nickel-metal-hydride battery. EVWorld editor Bill Moore, citing a conversation with Akihiko Otsuka, chief engineer for the Prius redesign, writes that

Toyota tried it and apparently discovered that for not-entirely-well-understood reasons, connecting the PV panels to the battery turns them into an “antenna” of sorts, which at the very least seems to disrupt the car’s radio.

So Toyota left it at that. The solar roof will simply help keep the car cool when it’s parked by running a fan to ventilate the car. For the average driver, that could be somewhat useful for, say, half the year.

I spoke with Otsuka while reporting from the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month, and learned that Toyota engineers are targeting a range of 20 kilometers in the EV mode for the plug-in version of the Prius. The lithium-battery-equipped vehicle is to be offered to Toyota’s fleet customers by the end of this year.

That would mark a boost over the 10-to-15-kilometer range offered by the nickel-metal-hydride-powered plug-in Prius that Toyota has been testing. But it remains just a third of the 60-kilometer range that GM is promising for its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, which is due out next year. GM’s design has already set off a debate over the cost effectiveness and efficiency of carrying the battery capacity that such range requires.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.