Prius Goes Solar?

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Toyota Priuses (Prii?) are the go-to status automobile for the eco-conscious set, but you can hardly blame them. With gas hovering around $4.10 a gallon and global-warming guilt flooding the news cycle, the Prius' advertised 45-50 miles per gallon looks mighty appetizing.

The Prius achieves its high fuel efficiency by employing a hybrid gas-electric engine, but reports from Japanese business daily Nikkei hint that the green car could get even greener: They claim the third-gen Prius will rely on solar energy to power the air conditioning. Solar panels manufactured by Kyocera would cover portions of the car and could provide between two to five kilowatts for A/C power.

The third generation of the Prius is expected to launch next year. This news will likely serve as catnip to prospective Prius buyers: While SUVs and most auto sales in general have sunk, Toyota reports Prius sales have been increasing.

But some critics contend that solar panels would do little to actually power the car, and the solar panels would be more for show than anything else.

"Even if you laid solar panels out on the entire roof of a house, you only generate enough energy to run two hairdryers," said Kentaro Endo, a specialist on renewable energy from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Still, you have to give Toyota credit for coming up with the idea of harnessing the power of the sun's rays to combat the discomfort associated with...the power of the sun's rays. That's pretty cool.

— Ted Alvarez

Prius 'to be part solar-powered' (BBC)