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Never buy gasoline again?

Solar panels revolutionized the way people power their homes, dramatically reducing the reliance on electricity. The sun is nature's largest power plant, and it can provide more renewable energy to the earth in one hour than fossil fuels can produce in a year. The same solar panel technology is now being used on vehicles to run some of the components in the car. But powering an entire vehicle on car-mounted panels may still be years away.

Right now, select models of cars have a solar panel on the roof of the car. The Audi A8 and the Prius have solar operated fans that can reduce cabin temperature. The Fisker Karma has a panel big enough to add extra solar-powered energy to the battery to fuel about 5 all-electric miles a week if the car is parked in the sun all the time. Auto manufacturer Fiat recently inked a deal with Irish solar manufacturer SolarPrint to add solar panels to some of its model's roofs. The manufacturer says that using low-cost photovoltaic material to offset drain from energy-hungry components, such as air conditioning and heating systems, is expected to reduce fuel consumption by up to 15 percent.

On the other side of the coin, many other manufacturers have not jumped into the solar power game, saying that there simply isn't enough roof or hood space to include enough panels to be able to make the car run entirely on solar power. Also, the aesthetics of the car can be reduced by the appearance of panels. PV power tends to be expensive as well.

Because of the high manufacturing costs of PV cells and the large area needed to collect sunlight, solar power is one of the most expensive forms of generation methods. U.S. Energy Information Administration and Statistics Canada estimate that the amount of electricity generated in the U.S. and Canada from solar sources is between 0 and .01 percent as compared to other generation sources.

But there are some people that say the larger picture for solar panels makes them advantageous in spite of the initial cost. Plus, there is a work-around for drivers interested in ceasing trips to the gas station altogether. Individuals can drive a plug-in electric car that is powered by PV panels mounted on a home roof. Not only can these solar panels run many electrical components of the house, but they can essentially fuel a car for the rest of the car's life. Some PV systems can displace $90 worth of electricity every month. They can also generate enough power equivalent to $100 of gasoline in the same time period.

Although PV systems may be costly up front, many vehicle owners say they pay for themselves in a few short years. And with gasoline prices continually on the rise, solar kits may make sense for drivers looking to save money in the long run.