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Audi's next panoramic roof could pack solar power

It won't add 100 miles to the battery, but a little help never hurts.

Automakers have been toying with roof-mounted solar cells for some time, but no idea has ever really stuck. Audi's latest effort, on the other hand, might.

Audi announced Wednesday that it teamed up with Hanergy, a Chinese solar cell specialist, to develop a thin-film solar array embedded in a panoramic glass roof. Audi believes the entire roof can be covered in cells that could provide additional benefits to vehicles.

You'll probably need more than one cell to cover the roof.


Solar cells haven't gained much traction because they provide relatively little power -- any attempt to add to a vehicle's range would be minimal compared with the amount of time a car would need to spend in the sun. But that hasn't stopped Toyota from offering a solar roof on its Prius line, including the new Prius Prime plug-in.

But that doesn't mean it's a total waste. Audi wants the cells to help power a car's ancillary systems such as seat heaters or air conditioning -- systems that don't demand a ton of power.

Produced by Alta Devices in California, the solar cells in question are thin, small and efficient. They're claimed to work well in areas with low light and high temperature, and they also happen to be flexible.

Best of all, we won't have to wait long for this tech to arrive. Audi hopes to have its first prototype roof built by the end of 2017, which means production-ready versions could appear as early as 2018.