The what accounts for the rapidly changing

The term “carbon footprint” is widely used today as an
indicator of how much of an impact an individual or a group of people is making
on the environment. It is what accounts for the rapidly changing world
climate– which impacts food sources, animals, populations, and the planet
overall. Because of the amount of carbon dioxide that is being put into the
atmosphere by cars, it is important to understand exactly how much of impact
cars can make concerning their carbon footprint. A recent estimate shows that
31% of all carbon emissions each year from the United States is caused by car
usage1.  But in an economy dependent upon getting
people to and from work, how is the United States to decrease their carbon
footprint?

Kickstarting National
Alternative Energy

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Despite the stronghold of oil companies, many auto
manufacturers and oil-based industries are trying to find an alternative to
relying solely on petroleum to run their products. Electric cars are becoming
more popular, with even popular cars like Honda making a commitment to launch
more electric car models in the future2.  Most people who are proponents of
environmental change have praised the recent efforts of cars companies to
convert to electricity. However, with more cars plugging in, the question lies
in whether the electricity being used to power these cars is coming from a
green resource, which leads proponents of energy reform to shift their efforts
into creating an energy infrastructure that is entirely green.

Enter solar power – a way of generating electricity that
requires only one of the most abundant sources of energy available. It makes
sense that a resource so abundant would be the first choice for mechanical
operation. However, there are obstacles to overcome when it comes to solar
powered cars. Before diving into the dilemmas, it is important to understand
just how solar energy works. The most efficient way to harness solar energy has
been found to be through using solar panels, in which photovoltaic cells
convert the sun’s energy into the energy used to power things. These are what
harnesses the energy, and when it is harnessed it is stored in a separate
battery.

The Problems with Solar
Power and Cars

When solar power is used for powering buildings or other
large structures, excess energy must be stored in batteries. With cars, because
they are hooked up to batteries the energy from the solar panels is sent
directly to the car battery. In theory, if a car received continuous access to
the sun and all the parts of the energy conversion worked then there would be
no problem making it a renewable resource. But there are issues in the
construction that are, for now, part of the reason why solar energy isn’t being
harnessed actively for cars.

One of the biggest issues that engineers designing solar
powered-cars are running into is how to harness the energy so that it fits with
all the constraints that come with a car. For instance, a car’s battery would
not hold enough of the energy to allow it to run without being in constant
sunlight, so if a car were to go through a tunnel or were to operate in a place
with little sunlight, the car would not work. Additionally, more or larger
batteries would significantly slow the car down – a problem that is amplified
by the lack of horsepower available with solar power.   3

Solar Powered Cars and
Poverty

An additional problem that often is at the root of the
carbon footprint and solar-powered car issue is cost. While electric cars are
becoming more and more affordable for the average American, because of the high
cost of manufacturing, solar-powered cars are currently out of the price range
for most Americans. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 – a wage that has not
gone up since 20094.  In the United States, the cheapest state to
live in is Arkansas. Even bearing these statistics in mind, the amount that a
person needs to make hourly to meet that standard of living and avoid working
more than 40 hours a week is 13.72, which is a full $5.22 more per hour than
the state minimum wage5.

Because many of the people who are contributing to the
United States’ carbon footprint are also making minimum wage, this solution
currently does not include a large part of the population. How can a person
struggling to afford to live on minimum wage afford a car that runs efficiently
on solar energy? With no fully-solar powered cars available on the market yet,
it is hard to determine exactly how much one would cost for the average car
buyer.

The most affordable electric car, the Smart Electric Drive,
only has two seats and costs an average of $ 25,8256.
Even if a family working on minimum wage could afford monthly payments on this
car, it would not be able to transport more than one person and would be
useless for families with children. As has been with many other environmental
issues, including the release of detergents into water sources and the purchase
of sustainably-sourced and manufactured food, environmental progress is directly
related to income and therefore a multi-faceted issue.

The Benefits Will
Outweigh the Cost, Eventually

There are many speed bumps standing in the way of a
successful implementation of solar-powered vehicles. However, it is imperative
that the United States and sustainable energy manufacturers make solar-powered
vehicles a top priority. It is a clean energy, meaning that if the successful
storage of the sun’s energy is implemented, there will be almost no output of
carbon. In combination with factories dedicated to the utilization of clean
energy, this will mean a drastic reduction in carbon input. Use of
solar-powered vehicles will effectively put an end to the need for petroleum,
also cutting out the environmental hazards that come with it.

Additionally, it will address issues of poverty. If solar
power becomes the fuel of the future, you guarantee a free resource (once the
up-front costs have been paid). While expensive electric cars seem out of the
reach for most low-income families now, the surge in popularity will allow
these products to become more accessible, eventually relinquishing the need for
gas – an expense that only adds to the heavy economic blows that working-class
families are dealt every day. In the meantime, promoting sustainable charging
of electric cars and helping families across America get affordable,
sustainable energy from solar-powered houses will begin the carbon-reduction
process.

To successfully implement solar energy to be used in cars,
there are a myriad of elements that must be changed in our governmental system.
Solar power needs to develop and become more affordable and widely accessible.
Until then, sustainable alternatives like affordable electric cars powered by
solar energy need to be made readily available to the public. Lastly, poverty
and wage inequality need to be addressed to target one of the largest
populations in the United States. Once these issues are addressed, the future
of solar-powered machinery, as well as the future of our environment, will look
a little brighter.