Fiat investigates solar powered cars

The Italian manufacturer has signed a deal with SolarPrint, an Irish renewable energy expert, to create solar panels capable of partially powering future models.

Fiat has named the project SMARTOP and has teamed up with a number of UK university research departments to develop the technology, which it is claimed could lower fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 15 per cent.

"The smart sun roofs that will eventually be installed in cars offer a number of important advantages, in terms of energy that is both generated and saved, the lower cost of the component materials, and the overall comfort and benefits for the driver," said Vito Lambertini, a member of the Centro Richerche Fiat (Fiat Research Centre).

Solar panels have generally not been considered for use in mainstream vehicles, particularly in the UK. The cost of the technology and low amount of energy produced has been seen as prohibitive by some, and other technologies such as electric power have been introduced instead.

However, the smart roof could use photovoltaic technology (PV) to capture energy, which could be used to supply electricity to the lithium-ion batteries currently used in electric cars, thereby boosting the range.

Dr Mazhar Bari, CEO of SolarPrint, believes the technology will ‘revolutionise’ the automotive industry.

"Simply put, in the not too distant future, cars will be partially powered by PV technologies, which will have significant knock-on benefits for consumers, manufacturers and society as a whole," he said.

The SMARTOP project will look into the costs associated with installing solar panels on future vehicles and could develop the technology in future.

Fiat is currently considering producing a range of electric vehicles, starting with a Fiat 500 with a petrol-electric powertrain.