Winding previous the ochre-coloured plateaux of the Bardenas Reales pure park in northern Spain, Roel Grooten nudged me to take my foot off the accelerator.

The automotive continued to barrel down the open stretch of street, its velocity dipping solely barely. “It retains on going,” mentioned Grooten, the lead engineer for the Dutch automotive firm Lightyear, as we whizzed by way of the lunar-like panorama. “What you are feeling is nothing holding you again. You are feeling the aerodynamics, you are feeling the low-rolling resistance of the tyres, of the bearings and the motor.”

It’s this streamlined design that the corporate credit for permitting it to muscle its approach into an area lengthy missed by most automotive producers. As early as November, the corporate will begin supply of what it describes because the “world’s first production-ready photo voltaic automotive” – the Lightyear 0, a €250,000 (£215,000) sedan draped in 5 sq metres of curved photo voltaic panels that prime up the electrical battery whereas the automotive is driving or parked open air.

“If we’d have the identical quantity of vitality that we harvest on these panels on some other automotive that makes use of thrice the quantity of vitality to drive, it turns into ineffective. It turns into a really costly gimmick,” mentioned Grooten. “It’s important to construct this automotive from the bottom up, to make it as environment friendly as doable, to make it this possible.”

In optimum situations, the photo voltaic panels can add as much as 44 miles a day to the 388-mile vary the automotive will get between costs, in keeping with the corporate. Assessments carried out by Lightyear counsel individuals with a each day commute of lower than 22 miles might drive for 2 months within the Netherlands without having to plug in, whereas these in sunnier climes resembling Portugal or Spain might go so long as seven months.

In optimum situations, the photo voltaic panels can add as much as 44 miles a day to the 388-mile vary the automotive will get between costs. {Photograph}: Nacho Bueno Gil/The Guardian

However whether or not the corporate’s gamble on photo voltaic will repay stays to be seen, mentioned Jim Saker, professor emeritus at Loughborough College and president of the Institute of the Motor Trade.

“You’re having to pay an terrible lot of cash and have photo voltaic panels caught on the automotive for simply 44 further miles. The query mark for the time being is the truth that, in actuality, is that truly price it? The precise idea isn’t unhealthy. It’s simply whether or not the know-how is definitely viable to make it economically sustainable for anyone wanting to do that.”

Gross sales of the Lightyear 0 would most likely be restricted to a handful of early adopters, he added. “However in actuality, it’s not a industrial proposition for the time being.”

Others questioned the thought of a automotive being touted as a salve to the ever deepening local weather disaster. “Essentially the most sustainable technique to strategy automotive possession is definitely to keep away from it fully, in case you can in any respect,” mentioned Vera O’Riordan, a PhD pupil specializing in low-carbon pathways and insurance policies for passenger transport at College Faculty Cork in Eire.

Whereas electrical automobiles could have a restricted position to play in rural areas that lack public transport, she cited analysis suggesting these automobiles are sometimes offered to high-income households in city areas. “So you must ask your self the query: are you serving this individualised, very inefficient, very dangerous and traffic-inducing transport in city areas the place it might in any other case be completely met by public transport and strolling and biking?”

The necessity to transfer away from vehicles to deal with the local weather emergency is – maybe surprisingly – echoed by Lex Hoefsloot, the 31-year-old chief govt of Lightyear, who has raised about €150m in funding to get it operating.

“It might be nice, I totally agree,” he mentioned. “However I believe we’re not going to vary our lives an excessive amount of. Maybe, after we’re actually panicking in 20 years, we’d. However within the meantime, now we have to work round that.”

Since 2016 the corporate has championed photo voltaic vitality as a key a part of this work-around, envisioning photo voltaic vehicles able to operating on clear vitality and accelerating the transition away from polluting fossil fuels. “Individuals have been saying it wasn’t doable, principally due to the restricted quantity of solar energy you could possibly get on a automotive,” mentioned Hoefsloot.

Roel Grooten and Ashifa in the car
Roel Grooten, the lead engineer, explains the automotive’s controls. {Photograph}: Nacho Bueno Gil/The Guardian

His personal expertise, nevertheless, steered in any other case. The Lightyear 0 – a smooth four-wheel drive – traces its roots to a squat box-on-wheels that ferried 4 helmet-clad college college students throughout the Australian outback to win in its class within the 2013 world photo voltaic problem.

“If it really works in Australia, then it really works all over the place. That was the pondering,” mentioned Hoefsloot, who based Lightyear with 4 different members of the photo voltaic problem crew. “Early days, I need to admit there was a hesitation whether or not we should always go full automotive manufacturing, as a result of everyone knows it’s not the simplest factor. However there was no one else on the market that was actually keen to or doing one thing comparable.”

Lately there was an upswell of curiosity in integrating photo voltaic panels into vehicles: Mercedes-Benz just lately revealed plans to outfit an upcoming electrical automotive with rooftop photo voltaic panels, whereas Toyota has at occasions supplied limited-capacity photo voltaic panels as an add-on to its Prius hybrid.

Subsequent 12 months, Munich-based Sono Motors plans to roll out a €28,500 solar-assisted household automotive, whereas the California-based startup Aptera Motors mentioned in 2020 that preorders for its futuristic three-wheeled photo voltaic electrical automobile offered out in lower than 24 hours.

With months left earlier than the Lightyear 0’s manufacturing run, there are nonetheless kinks to be labored out, from a stiff steering wheel to the excitement that at occasions fills the automotive when the air con kicks in.

As soon as you’re within the automotive, there’s little concerning the driving expertise that feels totally different from different electrical vehicles – “That’s an enormous praise, that’s what we’re aiming for,” one workers member tells me – save for a smattering of reminders concerning the fixed drip feed of photo voltaic vitality. One display screen exhibits precisely what cells are feeding off the solar at any given second, whereas one other quantifies how a lot photo voltaic vitality is being absorbed.

Closeup of front of car
The automotive’s physique panels are made out of reclaimed carbon fibre. {Photograph}: Nacho Bueno Gil/The Guardian

In an effort to make use of as a lot of this photo voltaic vitality as doable, the windswept design eschews side-view mirrors for cameras and runs off light-weight electrical motors tucked into its wheels. The physique panels are crafted from reclaimed carbon fibre and the interiors are original from vegan, plant-based leather-based with materials made out of recycled polyethylene terephthalate bottles.

The 20-minute take a look at run might be the one time I’ll sit on the wheel of the Lightyear 0. With its hefty price ticket – ideally paid by those that have an outside parking house to maximise the automotive’s acquire from the solar – it isn’t a automotive for the plenty.

As an alternative, the corporate envisions the manufacturing run, which can supply as much as 946 automobiles for supply throughout Europe and the UK, as a starting of types. “It is a small scale to validate to the world that we will produce a automotive,” mentioned Telian Franken, the prototype crew lead.

From there, the corporate will shift its focus to a second solar-assisted electrical automotive it’s aiming to promote for about €30,000 as early as 2025. “We’re making an attempt to make the distinction, not for the millionaire who can afford a €250,000 automotive, however to get us to the purpose the place the typical particular person can get off grid – get a dependable sustainable automobile that beats toe-for-toe any econo-box you may get on the time,” mentioned Franken, citing the Toyota Corolla or Honda Accord as examples. “That’s what we’re making an attempt to beat – and exchange – as a result of it’s not sustainable.”