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Solar-charged trip across USA closer to reality

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solar-journey-youtube1After a few delayed deliveries of equipment and some challenges with administrative issues in the preparation process, Rob van Haaren and Garrett Fitzgerald, also known as the Solar Journey Team, are ready for their first test-trip.

The two Columbia University graduate students plan to drive an electric car 3,200 miles from New York City to San Francisco – and they’re going to power it with 100-percent American “grown” solar.

Back on track
Although their cross-country solar-charged journey in an EV was planned for summer 2012, complications have held van Haaren and Fitzgerald back. However things seem to be getting back on track for the duo.

“We’ve tested our trailer and the solar PV system; everything appears to be working properly,” van Haaren explains.

According to Fitzgerald and van Haaren, the only thing left to test is to see if the team’s portable PV system will effectively and completely charge an electric car. The team hopes to try this for the first time at the National Plug-In Day Event in Philadelphia this Sunday.

They are bringing their equipment to the event. Their equipment includes a Tesla charger that can hook up to their 240V AC inverter, as well as two 120V AC outlets that can handle up to 4 kW and a solar PV array of 6.5 kW.

For van Haaren and Fitzgerald, working to put together Solar Journey been mostly a positive experience.

Meeting challenges
“We love building things and dealing with the challenges you find on the way to the final product,” notes van Haaren.

Van Haaren says the pair is excited by the positive response they’ve received from friends, family, professors and even strangers. Additionally, they’ve got sponsorship support from companies such as First Solar, Outback Power and Global Environmental Fund.

Although the original idea was to tow a trailer carrying a portable 6.5 kW solar array behind an EV, insurance issues have forced the team to elect to use a pick-up truck instead. The specific auto insurance holdup they encountered: No EVs have been officially rated for towing.

Education is main goal
Although they will be burning some gasoline by using a pick-up truck, Fitzgerald and van Haaren still believe that they can complete their mission of educating the public about solar and EVs.

As for the EV model Fitzgerald and van Haaren will be using, the two are still undecided. They were hoping to drive a Tesla Roadster. However, Tesla expressed concerns about the impact of driving the car 200 miles per day for 30 days in a row, especially in terms of the effect on battery capacity and trade-in value for the car.

So now the team is considering other approaches.

“We’re now looking into other EV options, even considering a PHEV, which is less cool, we know,” explains van Haaren.

The team plans to announce a new departure date for their historic solar journey across America soon.

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Columbia University graduate students Garrett Fitzgerald (left) and Rob Van Haaren (right) plan to drive a production EV across the U.S. using only power generated by a unique, rollable solar array. [Photo Courtesy of SolarJourneyUSA.com]

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