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Do solar cars have a ray of hope against EVs and combustion engines in UAE?

In a few years, you will no longer need to hide in the shade. Solar powered cars are on the horizon.

Not too long ago, back in 2015, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) revealed a shocking fact: Dubai has double the cars in London, with a vehicle density of 540 per 1,000 people. This is the highest in the region and one of the highest in the world. Most of those vehicles run on fossil fuels.

With electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids slowly making their way into the transportation market around the world, solar cars could be the latest innovation to take hold.

Can this be a reality for the UAE and the GCC?

Traditional cars dominate

From an economic perspective, driving an EV is lighter on the wallet than driving a fuel-run car. With a recent study revealing that driving a Tesla Model 3 for 100 kilometers is 200% more economical than driving a petrol vehicle for the same distance, so why do fuel run cars still dominate the market?

The situation isn’t as clear-cut as it first appears. Electric cars, as a novelty and a relatively new technology, still command exorbitant prices. When compared with the much more affordable petrol and diesel vehicles, customers disregard the cost of fuel. The average-price fuel vehicle in the EU is currently around $25,000. In February 2017, the average price of an EV dropped by 11% according to $34,000, according to Kelley Blue Book.

EV vs. combustion engine

MR Raghu, managing director of Marmore Mena Intelligence said, “With Dubai prices for electricity and petrol, it would cost a $1.4 (Dh5.14) to drive a Tesla Model 3 for 100km. In comparison, the same distance in a petrol car would cost $4.3 (Dh15.78).”

“However, some of the top-selling cars in the UAE costs about one-third as much as Tesla. Considering the prices of the electric cars and the low fuel prices in the GCC region, the gain from the fuel costs, isn’t attractive enough for the buyers to opt for electric cars instead of petrol cars,” he added.

He further explained that based on the savings per 100km and the average price of the vehicles, it would take a UAE driver 2.2 million km’s to recover the additional cost incurred.

Yet, petrol sales have decreased since last year. 6,003 million liters of fuel were sold last year as against 6,463 million liters in the previous year, according to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). This could be attributed to a slight rise in the use of public transportation, as well as an incremental increase in EV adoption.

Bloomberg predicts that by 2022 EVs will cost the same as fossil fuel cars, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predicts that in just over two decades, EVs will make up more than half of all vehicles sold.

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The perfect solar opportunity

Another major deterrent for customers is the lack of infrastructure support for this transportation method. While Managing Director of Dubai Electricity and Water Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer said that the emirate is planning to double the amount of charging stations to 200, the lack of charging points still represents the biggest hurdle the EV market in Dubai needs to overcome.

One of the other factors contributing to customer doubts in relation to EVs is the limited range of these cars, as the extensive use of air conditioning limits the range and electric vehicle can cover.

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Solar to the rescue

This is where Solar vehicles come in. Given the excessive sun rays in the region, customers could have the solution to fuel spending in their hands.

Solar cars are inherently electric vehicles at the end of the day. However, they bypass this need and inconvenience of finding a charging station before you’re left stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Sono Motors’ new solar car, the Sion, is hoping to achieve this, with the car set to launch in Europe during 2019. The Germans aren’t the only ones running in the solar race, as Dutch manufacturer Lightyear is also expecting to debut its solar car soon, in 2020.

Both the Lightyear One and Sion vehicles are covered in solar panels that can either power the car directly, or charge the onboard battery.

Solar a reality, but still got a ways to go

Research into solar cars is still in its infantile stages, and manufacturers need more time to make their production more efficient and their price affordable for consumers.

A major concern with solar vehicles has been their weight and surface area. As a technology that is even more recent than the electric and hybrid, solar vehicles have traditionally struggled with creating solar panels that are compact enough to fit into a car, while also generating enough energy to run a passenger vehicle.

It’s due to this that these vehicles have had to be relatively lightweight in recent years, which directly contradicts safety expectations from customers and government bodies. Some have even been only able to carry 1 or 2 passengers at max.

Furthermore, excessive heat such as in the UAE affects the efficiency of energy generation in solar panels. This could require manufacturers to tailor design vehicles to be sold in hotter regions.

If customers are finding electric vehicles expensive, they have yet to hear of the price of solar cars. The Lightyear One is set to release at a whopping $140,000, excluding taxes, the World Economic Forum reports. The Sion will be more affordable, at around $25,000.

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UAE on the EV hype train

The federal government has ordered all of its ministries and federal government entities to replace 10% of its fleet with EVs while the long term plan is to replace 20% of all government vehicles with EVs.

In Dubai, the government has mandated all its departments and agencies to include 10%EVs in its fleet by 2020.

According to the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, an estimated 2,100 EVs will be joining Dubai Government’s fleet by 2020.

As of September 2017, Dubai had 274 EVs and 431 hybrid vehicles registered in the emirate.

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