Talk about a bright idea! World’s first solar-powered SUV completes a 620-MILE test drive


Stopping to refill the tank or charge up on a long road trip is a constant and inevitable frustration – but these engineering students might have done away with stops for good.

Their two-seater vehicle, Stella Terra, has just completed a 620-mile (1,000km) test drive across Morocco and the Sahara desert without stopping once to recharge. 

Designed by students at Eindhoven University of Technology, the Stella Terra is described as the ‘world’s first off-road solar SUV’. 

It’s road-legal with a top speed of 90 miles per hour (145km/h), weighs only 1.2 tonnes, and has a range of 440 miles on a sunny day. 

Relying only on the car’s built-in solar panels, the vehicle crossed from Morocco’s north coast, through the off-road trails of the Rif mountains, and into the sandy dunes of the Sahara.

Engineering students from Eindhoven University of Technology designed the two-seater Stella Terra, which is the world's first fully solar-powered off-road SUV

Engineering students from Eindhoven University of Technology designed the two-seater Stella Terra, which is the world’s first fully solar-powered off-road SUV

The student team put the Stella Terra through rigorous testing along a 620 mile route between Tangier, Midelt (one of Morocco’s highest towns), and the Sahara Desert 

Wisse Bos, the project’s team manager, said the technology behind the car’s performance was a decade ahead of anything else currently on the market. 

‘Stella Terra must withstand the harsh conditions of off-roading while remaining efficient and light enough to be powered by the sun. That is why we had to design almost everything for Stella Terra ourselves, from the suspension to the inverters for the solar panels’, Mr Bos said.

To ensure the car could run on the power of the sun alone, the engineers had to make the chassis as light as possible.  

This turned out to be a big advantage when it came to off-roading, as the lightweight construction and custom suspension meant Stella Terra was less affected by poor surface conditions.

During the epic road trip, the only issue occurred when the steering system failed. 

However, this could be repaired by the roadside and the team was able to complete the journey. 

The car also includes an in-built lithium-ion battery, meaning it can operate over shorter distances on less sunny days and can be charged via conventional charging stations. 

Mr Bos added that Stella Terra actually surpassed some of the team’s expectations, using 30 per cent less energy than expected and allowing the team to drive the entire trip without using any charging stations. 

By unfolding the solar panel canopy, Stella Terra can charge more efficiently and provide its drivers with some much-needed shade on a sunny day

By unfolding the solar panel canopy, Stella Terra can charge more efficiently and provide its drivers with some much-needed shade on a sunny day

The lightweight construction not only allows the car to drive further but also stops it from sinking into sand dunes

The lightweight construction not only allows the car to drive further but also stops it from sinking into sand dunes 

Stella Terra

  • 440-mile range on a sunny day, 341-mile off-road range
  • Top speed of 90 miles per hour
  • Weighs 1,200kg
  • In-built lithium-ion battery for additional charging on less sunny days
  • 97 per cent efficient solar panel converters
  • Custom built suspension and steering system 
  •  Two seats able to recline fully into beds
  • Provides enough power to cook and charge devices
  • Extendable solar panel awning for additional charging and shade 
The Stella Terra has been designed by students at Eindhoven University of Technology as the first solar-powered off-road SUV

The Stella Terra has been designed by students at Eindhoven University of Technology as the first solar-powered off-road SUV

The level of power provided by the solar panels was so great that there was even surplus energy at the end of the day that could be used for cooking and charging devices. 

Stella Terra’s roof can fold out into a larger canopy to improve the efficiency of charging while stationary, or to provide shade for a roadside picnic.

The team also discovered that the custom converter for the car’s solar panels was 97 per cent efficient at converting light from the sun into electrical energy. 

For comparison, the most efficient solar panels available for purchase are generally no more than 45 per cent efficient.

Mobility expert and University of Eindhoven professor, Maarten Steinbuch, says he is very impressed with the team’s engineering efforts.

‘It is already difficult in normal conditions to build an energy-efficient car that can handle rough conditions, let alone to integrate solar panels into the car as well. I haven’t seen anyone do that yet,’ Mr Steinbuch said. 

He adds that the technology showcased in the Stella Terra could have wider impacts on the future of driving technology.

Mr Steinbuch said: ‘I expect that in five to ten years electric cars will be part of our entire energy grid system.

‘And when the home battery makes its appearance, it will even be possible to generate energy via a solar car and deliver it back to your home. Solar Team Eindhoven’s innovations could change the future.’ 

The only mechanical problem encountered by the student engineers was a failure in the car's steering system, which they were able to repair by the roadside

The only mechanical problem encountered by the student engineers was a failure in the car’s steering system, which they were able to repair by the roadside

Built and driven by a team of 21-25 year-old students, the Stella Terra boasts technology that is a decade ahead of anything else currently on the market

Built and driven by a team of 21-25 year-old students, the Stella Terra boasts technology that is a decade ahead of anything else currently on the market 

However, in order to change the world, solar vehicles will first have to become commercially viable.

The Stella Terra has not been designed for profit and is entirely funded by sponsorship. 

The team has also said it cannot comment on how much the vehicle cost to create.

However, the cost of production does seem to be a significant problem for advanced solar vehicles. 

Atlas Technologies, a company created by graduates from Eindoven’s solar programme, was forced to file for bankruptcy due to a lack of sales for their €500,000 (£432,180) car.

However, the company has since re-started as a subsidiary of the Dutch Lightyear and is offering a new model that would cost $40,000 (£32,885) with a range of 500 miles (804 km) between charges.

Another issue for solar vehicles is the weather as, although the design may be viable in the sunny Sahara, other climates may be less suitable.

Relying only on the car's built-in solar panels, the vehicle crossed from Morocco's north coast, through the off-road trails of the Rif mountains, and into the sandy dunes of the Sahara

Relying only on the car’s built-in solar panels, the vehicle crossed from Morocco’s north coast, through the off-road trails of the Rif mountains, and into the sandy dunes of the Sahara 

The Sahara receives about 10 to 13 hours of sunlight daily, while the UK averages just 4.9 hours per day. 

The sunlight in the Sahara is also significantly more intense than elsewhere in the world and therefore has the potential to generate more solar power. 

The region’s sunlight is so intense that there is currently a project to connect a solar farm in Morocco to Britain via undersea cables. 

It is believed that the Guelmin Oued Noun solar power plant could provide enough energy to power seven million homes by 2030.

However, solar cars may still be viable in a European climate as a previous Eindhoven team demonstrated when they drove a sun-powered camper van 1,864 miles (3,000km) from the Netherlands to the continent’s southernmost point. 

The Stella Vita ‘Self-Sustaining House on Wheels’ made the trip while generating enough energy to drive, watch TV, shower, charge your laptop, and brew coffee. 

SOLAR POWER EXPLAINED: ENERGY IS CONVERTED FROM SUNLIGHT INTO ELECTRICITY

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electrical power (stock image)

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electrical power (stock image)

Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity. 

Two methods for generating solar power exist.

Photovoltaics — the kind of solar panel you might see built into a calculator — are capable of directly converting light into electrical power. 

In concentrated solar power systems, however, mirrors or lenses are first used to collect the sunlight that falls on a large area and focus it — creating heat that can be used to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity.

The productivity of solar panels is dependant on the sunlight they receive in a given location — a factor which is dependant on both latitude and climate.

Optimum locations for solar farms include the arid tropics and subtropics, with deserts lying at such low latitudes often being cloudless and getting around 10 hours of sunlight each day.

According to NASA, the eastern part of the Sahara — the Libyan Desert — is the sunniest place on the Earth.

Solar power accounted for 1.7 per cent of the world’s electricity production in 2017, and has been growing at a rate of 35 per cent each year.



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