Solar Vehicle Spotted in Bay Area on Round-the-World Trip

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Toyota might be considering solar for the rooftop of its next Prius, but that add-on is reported to only power part of the air conditioning system. What about powering the basic driving of the vehicle via the sun? Well, you’ll need something more like the 6-square-meter solar panel trailer that’s being pulled by the Solartaxi, a sun-powered vehicle that is making an around-the-world road trip to promote clean energy.

This week the Solartaxi made its way through the Bay Area, visiting UC Berkeley, and San Francisco city sites like the cable car and Lombard street, along with Tesla Motors HQ in San Carlos (see photo below the jump) and Google headquarters in Mountain View. By now the sun-driven vehicle is on its way down south to UC Merced. The Solartaxi started its trip on July 3, 2007, and has a goal of driving 50,000 kilometers across 40 countries and 5 continents in 18 months. Getting close!

So what are the specs? The Solartaxi’s solar panels are made by German solar maker Q-cells, and the solar-covered trailer can provide enough power to run the car up to 100 km a day. If the driver needs to go farther than that, the car can power up via the grid and that non-clean electricity can be offset by a 9-square-meter rooftop power plant in Berne, Switzerland that will feed that same amount of solar energy into the grid. The Solartaxi also uses a Zebra battery (which they say is not lead-acid or nickel cadmium) to store energy and enable night and non-sunny day driving.

The idea for the Solartaxi was dreamed up by Swiss free-spirit traveler and aid worker Louis Palmer several years ago. Palmer enlisted help from a variety of engineering students at the Technical University Lucerne, the HTA Lucerne, the Schindler Apprenticeship, and the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. Many of the parts came from various local Swiss auto companies.

In June 2006 the Solartaxi received its road driving certificate, and a year later left on its around-the-world road trip. If you’re interested in traveling with the Solartaxi they accept roadtrippers for 3-week trips, particularly if you’ve got mechanic, engineering, or journalism (sweet!) skills. They say a sense of humor is required.

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