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Toyota Prius gets slathered in solar panels in the name of efficiency

Clean energy doesn't get cleaner than coming directly from a renewable source.

Toyota Prius solar panel prototype
Looks goofy, but it's efficient.

While many have pointed to electric cars as one way to curb emissions, EVs still require energy to charge the batteries. If said energy comes from fossil fuels, it start to erode the vehicle's total efficiency picture.

That's why Toyota is working on what could be one solution in the future: a car covered in solar panels. Tests for this prototype Toyota Prius began back in July. The automaker is working with NEDO and Sharp to conduct the demos, with the latter contributing the solar panels for the hood, roof, rear window and spoiler.

Unlike the production Prius, which has a solar charging system in some markets, the prototype car seen here can take the sun's energy from the solar panels and directly charge the battery while parked or while driving. Initial tests found the system was able to add 35 additional miles to the Prius' range. While parked, the solar panels added about 27 miles of extra range.

The Sharp solar panels also have a far more efficient conversion rate of 34% compared with 22.5% in Toyota's current production system. The more the panels can convert to usable energy, the better.

While 35 more miles of range is nothing to brush off, we'd venture the system costs far more than what consumers would be willing to pay for the technology. Electric cars in general are hardly part of the mainstream auto market. Yet, Toyota hopes the work today will lead to future battery breakthroughs and help create a new solar panel market.

Solar panels combined with ultrafast changing networks could finally help drivers consider a switch to an electric car. But we've still got years to go before that point, more than likely.

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