Electric Volkswagen Adds Rooftop Solar

Volkswagen has continually teased the release of a new Microbus in the same way that Duke Nukem Forever strung us all along in the 00s, but unlike the fated video game it seems as though Volkswagen is finally building a hip new van rather than continually teasing its release year after year. With the clunky name of I.D. Buzz, European drivers can expect to see them later this year while those in the North American market will have to wait until 2024. That release will have a camper-equipped option though, but you may also want to equip yours with some solar panels as well.

The German tuning shop ABT is behind this design, which adds 600 watts of solar fixed to the top of the van. The solar roof will generate electricity largely to power the van’s auxiliary systems and is being aimed at those who are looking to outfit this van as a camper and need something to power things like refrigerators, interior lighting, and various electronics while on extended stays. There is also some mention of a 1000 watt option but with the limited space available on the roof may involve a side panel of some sort.

ABT is also noting that this system can be used to extend the driving range and, while technically true, don’t expect to be driving an I.D. Buzz on entirely solar power unless you’re willing to let it sit to charge the battery for days at a time. Like other solar installations on vehicles we’ve seen from various ingenious builders, the lack of real estate available on passenger vehicles limits their use largely to auxiliary electrical loads, but it can be possible to drive a vehicle on solar energy alone with the right design.

46 thoughts on “Electric Volkswagen Adds Rooftop Solar

  1. Yes, by offloading (some) auxiliary power drains from the battery, vehicle range could be extended, but that depends on how many power drains the occupants consider necessary versus optional.
    How much farther could such a van go on a sunny, but not excessively hot day?

    1. 3 miles per kWh is a generous estimate of performance. The rough rule of thumb is 5 hours times rated power on a sunny day. Let’s assume midsummer to get the sun high in the sky for the rooftop panels. 5 hours times 600W is 3kWh time 3 miles/kWh gives us 9 more miles of range. And that’s almost certainly optimistic.

      1. I was able to get 5 miles per kWh from my Chevy Volt 2016, though it’s a different weight, no AC, no passenger, and etc, I would assume you can get 4 miles for this class of vehicles if you go not faster 55 mph on flat surface

          1. Sweet Lord, I almost get that mileage in my Chevy Bolt towing a 14′ sailboat boat at 55 mph! (2.9 miles per kWh, but not being gentle with it, could probably eeek out another 0.1)

            I think it’s time to start caring about efficiency in EVs.

          2. It’s interesting to see Americans talk about fuel consumption of cars.
            It’s all about “How much can I get?” (miles per gallon), while the rest of the world measures it by “How much does it consume?” (litres per hundred km).

            It’s funny to see it carry over to electric. Here, people are saying “miles per kWh”, while the rest of the world says “Wh per km”

            Buried in the cultural psyche, it seems.

      2. The irony is, if you leave a car outside in the sun it will get so hot that you’ll spend a considerable portion of the energy on running the AC to get the temperature back down. The AC system can consume hundreds of watts, up to kilowatts, when you crank it on full.

    2. This same thing gets posted every few months.

      The analysis remains the same. The solar panels would be better placed on a fixed location where they can get maximum sun exposure every day. Feed that power to the grid. Charge the car later from same. Better in every way, even range as the panels won’t cover their own induced loses from drag and weight.

      This _might_ change when all the good rooftops are covered in solar. But that will never happen.

      It’s not a terrible idea compared to things like solar roads, but it’s still a terrible idea.

    3. The are working with a company call SONO MOTORS they attempted to make there own vehicles, but failed to get the funding to do so, so instead they sold their work to other manufacturers like Volkswagen and other European makes . I did also see that they already have dolor power buses

  2. Fisker started doing this back in 2010, but those early cars the solar panel only powered auxiliary components. I believe the later (after Fisker’s bankruptcy) Karma Revero has a solar option which will also charge the main battery as well as auxiliary components. But I heard the IRL experience wasn’t particularly inspiring, I forget exactly but in full sun for a entire day the 200W solar panel wouldn’t provide enough charge to go a mile.


    The Fisker Ocean (to be released) also has a solar roof and claims it will provide 1500 miles of free range per year.

    Other companies are now offering solar roofs, such Hyundai and Toyota. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 has a solar roof option (coming to the USA?) and the Toyota bZ4X offers a solar roof option (Japan only for now), both claim to provide over 1000 miles of free range per year.

    I’m not sure if this is just a gimmick or not. That said, I’m kind of happy to see this tried out, wish my ICE cars had solar panels on the roof, much better than putting a trickle charger panel on the dash, and much better than having to pull and charge the battery because somebody forgot to plug the trickle charger in after a drive.

    1. It is a gimmick. The roof of a car is a very unforgiving location for a solar panel because of the heat and poor orientation towards the sun, and shadows from all sorts of object. Even when it does work, it’s probably not putting out more than half the nominal power.

      1. Well the roof seems like a better place than insider the car (where my current solar panel/trickle charger is). And unlike houses, you can easily move your car to a sunny spot.

        Of course, instead of driving around the parking lot (car park) looking for a spot in the shade, folks will be driving around looking for a spot in the sun. Then when returning to the car the amount of energy needed to cool it down from being parked in the sun is likely more than the car had generated…

    2. My 2010 prius’s solar roof powers HVAC fans on hot days. It’s really great to get into a car that isn’t an oven. I’m sure it does some other minor tasks, too.

  3. Driving isn’t the point at all. It’s all about boondocking for more than a couple of days and powering the fridge and a few lights and radio. Being a BEV means the batteries are already there, so only the charging is needed. Food and water and you might be able to live in it for months.

      1. As lots of younger folk round here are buying vehicles to do this idea too or building tiny houses on wheels to get around the stupidly high property prices and planning difficulties…

        I’d say the target audience is far from just the millionaires. Though not saying it is cheap enough for everyone, but it isn’t much more than the deposit ballpark required for many first time buyers – so add in a cheap bit of greenbelt with no planning permission and live in this might well appeal to some as a good starting point to building their own independent life. And mobile so they can take it with them in the inevitable job moves quite easily.

    1. Still nice it does provide range – if you ever do manage to run out of miles you can hang around a bit before limping on. In effect the ‘range anxiety’ should largely go away, as at worst you end up a bit late – bit better off than the ICE if you do manage to run out in the middle of nowhere, as that one you must get external help!

        1. Not saying it is going to be huge, but if the rolling resistance isn’t really really high (and it shouldn’t be) you won’t need much energy to keep it rolling along at walking pace, going much faster is not going to be practical on this sort of emergency charging. However it is rather more comfortable to sit there in comfort for a few hours to limp along at walking pace than walk it. Plus walk out you still have to get back to recover your vehicle!

  4. I did this to my Dodge diesel,the truckasaurus,which has
    no alternator and the solar provided all electrical power for lights and fans,starting ,etc,ran the truck year round at the 45’th parallel untill november last when it got rear ended
    and destroyed.
    My house and shop are off grid so all the parts were just
    laying around.
    I have another truck with lots of roof and hood space and
    will be goinb with flex pannels this time,hopeing for more
    than 1kw and will add an inverter for tools and other toys.

  5. The real irony is the additional weight and air drag of the solar panel will increase the energy consumption of the vehicle, offsetting the meagre solar energy received.

    Roughly speaking, every additional unit of mass you add to a vehicle will burn that mass of fuel (or electrical equivalent energy) per year (or per 20 k miles or so).

    Adding 40 kg of solar panel and associated hardware, will burn an extra 40 L of fuel per 35k km, producing 100 kg of CO2.

    1. Isn’t that a tiny offset? I’m guessing a van would get 10L per 100km so increasing that to 10.11L isn’t bad if it stops you idling at the destination at a consumption of say 0.5L per hour.

      1. It’s an EV we are talking about here.
        And I used to get better than 10 L/100 km in a Dodge Grand Caravan a couple of decades ago, even fully loaded.
        And it had three times the cargo capacity, double the range, and was 25% lighter than the ID.Buzz.
        This doesn’t sound like progress.

    2. What extra drag? – looks like they are integral to the body panel, and in the case of a EV what extra mass as well? Maybe it adds a tiny bit but you are talking adding a water bottle or two worth of mass against several tonne of vehicle so fractions of a single percent. Also may not add mass at all – Seen reports of the reduction in steel when putting solar in the body panels actually reducing the mass.

      1. It’s an aftermarket add-on module, appears quite thick in the photos, 1-2 cm of rubberized stick-on panels, adding 1% to the vehicle cross section and air drag.
        600 Wp implies 3 m^2 area, so 30-60L of volume. If mostly rubber and light material, it’s going to weigh in at roughly 40 kg, adding 1.5% to vehicle mass, plus whatever cabling and other electrical component weights.
        So adding this component is going to increase energy consumption of the vehicle, and decrease range by 1-1.5%. It also eats 10% of the cargo capacity. Sounds fairly modest.

        They say it will increase range by “up to” 3000 km per year. This presuming you can find a parking spot sunny all day for 365 sunny days, and park the vehicle on an incline to face the sun. Except for that condition, it does sound like a win, doesn’t it?

        3000 km is 600 kWh of energy (at 200 Wh/km), 1.6 kWh/d from 600 W of panels. Not outrageous — it implies a capacity factor of 11%, comparable to real-world residential panel installations (at least around here, 45 degrees north).

  6. This is such a horrible waste. Adding solar panels that only increase range by 1500 miles will save nobody any money. National average for electricity is $0.15/kW, with a vehicle averaging 3 miles per kW that’s roughly 500kW, or $75 per year. How many decades would someone to keep the vehicle to break even on the extra cost of the solar roof?

    1. Tell that to the Germans where it is nearly $0.80, and as you are talking about a camper consider the cost in petrol/diesel to power all the services while static as well. Not saying everyone who wants one of these will really get great benefit to the solar, but for some it is going to be just what they need.

      1. The solution to THAT problem isn’t adding solar panels on cars, but for the German government to pull their collective head out of their mutual ass. All the heavy industry is escaping Germany because of the insane energy prices.

        1. They are paying heavier than the rest of Europe compared to historic norms as they were so very very reliant on cheap Russian energy they couldn’t get or replace for a while, and now it still isn’t actually that high compared to the rest of the EU as a whole… Energy in Europe is often rather expensive compared to across The Pond. Cheaper would be nice, but ultimately it can only ever be so cheap without bankrupting the public purse or hiking taxes so high you are better off with expensive energy…

    1. I tossed them a refundable $100 to be on the waiting list, and periodically consider the invest-to-further-jump-the-queue option. The Aptera is very much my idea of a proper midlife crisis vehicle; much more interesting than a sports car, and cheaper than a sports car. Only downside I see is that by weight/power classifications it’s considered a large three-wheeler motorcycle rather than a small car, which means you would probably need a motorcycle license to drive one. And gods only know whether it will have more competent service techs than Fiat did. (“Fix it Again, Tony.”

      1. Yeah, the 3-wheel thing depends on the state; some allow them specially as autocycles and such. I did the same thing, although I am happy not to be the very first. But I agree about the way you describe it; if you would enjoy a sports car but need something that’s also practical, this makes sense.

        It’s got the power to weight and low drag to be entirely satisfactory on that front, especially with the awd. Efficient and electric, good for commuting, and doesn’t need a crazy power adapter to charge in reasonable time. Enough room in the back for a fair amount of stuff. Not a car for a whole family, but enough for two people to take their things and go somewhere.

    2. And importantly, the efficiency is enough that the solar can provide real range (est 40mi max), and the range can be high without expensive and heavy batteries. (est 10 mi per kWh up to 1000mi @ 100kWh)

      The Aptera seems more well thought out than other options, so I would recommend it provided that you’re in the target market and that they do actually come to market this time.

      That second link looks like a referral link, so I’ll disclose that if the company succeeds, referral links earn the sharer a discount of $1k per person who purchases an aptera. The person who clicks the link, as far as I remember, gets to reserve for $70 instead of $100 but no other benefit.

  7. And importantly, the efficiency is enough that the solar can provide real range (est 40mi max), and the range can be high without expensive and heavy batteries. (est 10 mi per kWh meaning up to 1000mi @ 100kWh)

    The Aptera seems much more well thought out than other options, so I would recommend it provided that you’re in the target market and that they do actually make it to market this time.

    That second link looks like a referral link, so I’ll disclose that referral links earn the sharer a discount of $1k per person who clicks and eventually purchases an aptera. The person who clicks the link, as far as I remember, gets to reserve for $70 instead of $100 but no other benefit.

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