Swiss adventurer and schoolteacher Louis Palmer made a stop in Davis on Saturday on his trip around the world to showcase his exclusively solar-powered vehicle, the Solar Taxi. He began his trip July 3 in Lucerne, Switzerland and has traveled 22,000 miles through Europe, Asia and North America.
People were able to witness the solar vehicle in person all day at Davis Farmers Market and talk with the driver himself, who was standing nearby ready to answer questions.
“The Solar Taxi has two comfortable Alcantara seats, a sound system and a slideable steering wheel so also the passenger can drive when I am tired and I can use it even on unpaved Indian and Chinese roads,” Palmer said. “I made a solar car for everyday life: You can go shopping, bring the kids to school or go to work and even use the highway.”
So far the car has had no major breakdowns, though some technical difficulties – including a flat tire – did cost the team two days.
The Solar Taxi, which took three years to build, was made with the combined efforts of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and three Swiss universities of applied sciences, among other sponsors. The car pulls a trailer with solar panels, which provide about half its energy. The other half is generated by plugging the car into the utility grid. Solar panels atop the headquarters of the sponsor Swisscom offset the Solar Taxi’s electricity consumption by feeding solar energy into the Swiss utility grid.
“One might argue that demonstrating such a vehicle in Davis is somewhat like preaching to the choir, given the level of interest in alternative energy at UC Davis,” said Bruce Hartsough, interim associate dean of the College of Engineering in an e-mail interview. “On the other hand, it helps to see that other people are interested in similar concepts.”
Jo Shroyer, director of communications and marketing for the School of Engineering, thinks that this visit will be beneficial for the Davis community.
“Hosting the Solar Taxi visit to this area is another opportunity for the UC Davis College of Engineering, a leader in alternative energy and transportation research, to raise public awareness of an important societal concern,” Shroyer said.
UC Davis is no stranger to alternative forms of transportation. The College of Engineering is a leader when it comes to alternative energy, Hartsough said. To name a few, Dan Sperling, Joan Ogden and others at the Institute of Transportation Studies are currently investigating alternatives to fossil fuels for transportation. Andy Frank in the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department developed the plug-in hybrid automobile, and Adam Moule in chemical engineering and materials science is working to reduce the cost of photovoltaic panels, Hartsough said.
“This opens up the eyes of many people,” said Eugen Dunlap, a computer resource specialist for the School of Education who owns two electric cars. “No one could think that the solar cells were that efficient that you could drive around just on solar. This is going out and showing the car and showing how it works.”
Hartsough agrees that displaying this car around the world will get people to start thinking about alternative energy.
“There’s a big difference between hearing about a solar car that is traveling around the globe and being able to ‘kick the tires’ and actually query the team about their experiences, good and bad,” Hartsough said.
Palmer believes solar powered vehicles are the solution to the world’s transportation and environmental problems.
“The technology is here, it’s affordable, it’s reliable and doable,” Palmer said. “The biggest block is education. People don’t know about [alternative] ways. People still think that the petrol car is the way to go. And now they are screaming about the high petrol price instead of looking at these solutions. This car is going to be the solution.”
Charles Ehrilch, a Davis resident who drives a bio-diesel Volkswagen Golf, also believes that displaying the solar-powered car around the world can be beneficial to educating people in alternative transportation options for the future.
“This demonstrates that there are lots of alternative ways to getting around,” Ehrilch said. “And every new technology needs its evangelists. Though it may not be practical right now, we need someone to take the lead to show us that it is possible.”
Palmer, also a schoolteacher, thinks that these cars should be made available to the public already.
“You know how much my electricity bill was to drive this car around the world?” Palmer said. “Absolutely free! And that’s why I’m working on this, to raise awareness and to have a message to tell the people that we can stop global warming. We can be independent from the petrol. You can save your money!”
The rising price of gas will push people to look for alternative transportation solutions, Palmer said. He believes consumers will be able to buy affordable solar cell batteries which could last up to 25 years sometime in the near future.
For more information about the Solar Taxi, go to solartaxi.com.
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at email@example.com.