Audi and Alta Devices are working on thin film solar cells that can be embedded into a panoramic roof and used to power various in-car functions.
Energy generated by the solar cells would be fed into the car’s electrical system, and could be used to drive various amenities, such as the air conditioning system or seat heaters.
According to the two partners, the solar cells are not only thin and flexible, but have an efficiency rating of over 25 per cent, and have been engineered to perform well in low light, high temperature conditions.
Audi expects the first prototypes to start hitting the road by the end of 2017, and if the technology makes it into production it will be used in future electric vehicles to enhance their driving range. Later versions of the technology may be able to charge a car’s main traction battery.
The solar cells are currently made in California by Alta Devices, an American subsidiary of Chinese photovoltaic specialist Hanergy.
Alta’s parent company has suffered some major headwinds of late, with Hanergy booking a loss almost US$2 billion ($2.5 billion) in 2015.
Its stock was also forcibly delisted from the Hong Kong stock exchange due to financial irregularities. The city’s Securities and Futures Commission is currently seeking to disqualify the company’s founder and CEO, Li Hejun, from holding a board role for up to 15 years.
This isn’t the first time a car maker has tried to harness the power of our nearest star, although Audi’s proposed system does goes a step further than earlier technologies.
Back in 1991, Mazda’s sixth-generation 929 was available with a roof-mounted solar panel that powered fans to help extract some heat the cabin. A similar setup was available in recent versions of the Toyota Prius.