Here Come the (Sorta) Solar-Powered Cars

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Courtesy Ford Motor Co.

2012 Ford Focus Electric

In terms of sustainability and environmental friendliness, hybrids and electric cars are good. But cars powered at least partly by the sun? That’s even better. Here are two steps in that direction.

Drivers around the country should be able to buy the new gas-free, zero-emissions Ford Focus Electric sometime in 2012. When they do, they’ll have the option to simultaneously have solar panels installed on their homes through a Ford partner, SunPower. The pitch is that the energy required to recharge the car could be generated by rooftop solar panels, and that environmentally conscious consumers could go green on the road and at home at the same time. Per USA Today:

“In effect, you are driving a solar-powered car,” says SunPower CEO Tom Werner. He says his customers are always commenting, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could power my car?”

Well, actually, the energy generated by the solar panels is only enough to offset about 1,000 miles of driving per month. That figure is likely to shift depending on multiple factors, including the time of year and the climate and precise location of the home—some spots are better for generating solar power than others. Also, the solar panel package deal is one pricey option, running approximately $10,000 after federal tax credits.

(MORE: Are Much Cheaper Car Prices Coming Soon?)

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that automakers are trying all sorts of ways to incorporate solar power into vehicles to improve fuel efficiency—a key goal, considering that car manufacturers must meet tough mpg requirements in the near future. One option on the Toyota Prius, for instance, is a solar-powered ventilation system. The system uses solar panels on the vehicle’s moonroof, and it’s the power of the hot sun that actually helps keep the vehicle cool.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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