With all of the free power available right over our heads, it would make sense if all cars powered their air conditioning -- and more -- with solar rays. And the technology is not new. Solar-powered cars were first developed in the 1970s and the first car that ran completely on solar power made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1984 [source: SolarPoweredCars]. If that's the case, why aren't we all driving around in solar-powered cars or at least running functions like radios and air conditioners off the sun's power?
Some electric cars already can use the sun for recharging at shady and strategically placed solar canopies. Others use the sun to power air conditioners -- the Toyota Prius comes to mind -- but it likely will be years until we can do much more with solar panels. Until engineers find ways to bring down the costs and make storage of solar power smaller and more practical, we probably won't be driving fully powered solar cars. Until then, the Prius and some others have managed to boost efficiency somewhat with solar options. In fact, students at the University of Michigan working on a new solar-powered car design called Quantum designed a car with state-of-the-art technology that could go 37 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour) but had no air conditioning at all -- it was equipped only with a ventilation duct [source: Eliasohn].
Using solar power, Toyota's Prius can stay cool while it's parked. If you opt for the solar roof package, your Prius will be equipped with a solar-powered ventilation system mounted on its roof. When your car is parked, the system can keep the inside of your car about the same temperature as the air outside. It does this by circulating air inside and outside of the car's interior with a solar-powered fan. In 2010 models, the solar panel was an option costing upward of $4,500 and only was available on certain models [source: Calfinder].
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