Panasonic has announced a new HIT Photovoltaic Module for Automobile and is teaming up with Toyota to provide panels for the Prius Prime's optional solar roof. According to the Japanese electronics manufacturer, the new solar roof is a significant improvement from previous automotive solar panels due to the improved output its roof produces. The design of the solar panel allows it to fit the Prius roof without any alterations to its shape or contour.
The new panel is now capable of producing 180 watts of electricity which, according to the manufacturers, is enough to power accessories of the vehicle along with charging the car's lithium-ion battery. With the solar panel producing more power the Prius Prime gains an increase in range, adding up to 6 kilometers a day while the car remains parked. On the move, the solar panel also helps with charging the battery further adding range.
Panasonic shares that their solar cells have a unique structure that combines a crystalline silicon substrate and an amorphous silicon film, and feature high conversion efficiency and excellent temperature characteristics. Conventional automotive solar cells can output up to several tens of watts and have been used only for the auxiliary charging of 12 V batteries and ventilation power sources for parked cars; however, the use of the features of Panasonic’s solar cells allow a high output (approx.180 W) in a limited area on a car’s roof, enabling the charging of the drive lithium-ion batteries as well as 12 V batteries, resulting in a possible extension of an EV’s travel distance and increased in fuel economy.
This is not the first tie up between Panasonic and an automotive manufacture however, as Panasonic already has close ties with Tesla. The companies build batteries at the Gigafactory, and they planned to work on solar cells after Tesla acquired SolarCity.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has also expressed interest in automotive solar panels and plans to have it as an option in the Model 3. With the two currently building solar panels for the residential market, it would be no surprise if Tesla also made solar panel roofs for their vehicles.