by Rafael Seidl
|The Solartaxi on its cross-European trip.|
Ten years ago, Swiss adventurer Louis Palmer set himself the ambitious goal of constructing a solar-powered three-wheeled electric vehicle: the Solartaxi. Next year, he intends to drive it around the world to educate people about global warming and what can be done about it.
Since the project’s inception, Palmer has enlisted the help of four Universities, ten business partners and some 70 volunteers (all located in Switzerland). The initial focus was on the vehicle itself. The trailer with solar panels is to be added in a second phase and deliver about 30% of the energy required.
|The Solartaxi with proposed trailer.|
Another 60% is produced by PV panels on the roof of Palmer’s house and fed into the grid, offsetting electricity generated using fossil fuels. The remaining 10% come from certified solar power generation farms.
Powered by Swiss-made Zebra batteries, the resulting vehicle was issued a roadworthiness certificate local authorities in June of 2006. Still rough around the edges of the interior (no upholstery yet etc.), the plucky one-off looks vaguely like a pint-sized Lamborghini Gallardo - except, it’s a trike.
This summer, Palmer and a mechanic friend took it for a 3,000-km (1,865-mile) endurance test from Lucerne (Switzerland) to Barcelona (Spain), through the Alps. The total elevation gain of 16,000 meters (presented no problems, with uphill speeds of up to 60 kph (37 mph). They had forgotten their toolchest, but in the end they never needed it anyhow.
On the way, the vehicle attracted lots of thumbs-up from passing motorists as well as occasional run-ins with the police who apparently really just wanted to get a better look. With its current range of approximately 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge, Palmer enlisted the support of fire stations and even a Ferrari dealership in Monte Carlo so he could recharge the battery off the grid for a few hours at a time.
Once in Spain, he was charged a whopping €0.29 toll on the motorway—plus a souvenir snapshot by the attendant’s digital camera. In Barcelona, too, onlookers took many pictures with their mobile phones. Palmer soon decided to get back on the open road and just enjoy the sheer thrill of cruising through the countryside in near-silence.
The upshot was that this little BEV that could managed to clock some 8,500 problem-free kilometers in its first three months, at a cost of ~€ 1 per 100km for electricity from the grid—not counting the amortization of the PV panels on Palmer’s roof. By the time the ’round-the-world trip is due to start, June of 2007, range on a single charge off the grid is to be extended to 350-400 km, thanks largely to the trailer. The interior will feature leather seats and an MP3 sound system.