Car runs on sun on world’s greatest solar continent

alan-gray-map-back1For the editor of an Australian-based publication dedicated to sustainable living, the decision to go zero — zero-emissions, that is — was easy.

Alan Gray and his wife Judith publish Earth Garden, a magazine about alternatives to a high-consumption lifestyle, based out of Trentham, Victoria, Australia.

Gray has generated electricity for his home with a 7.3 kW hour system on his roof since 1995. He has long dreamed of using the sun for transportation energy by powering an electric vehicle with solar power.

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In February 2008, he realized this dream. He converted the Earth Garden company car, a four-door hatchback Hyundai Getz, to electric.

Gray uses solar electricity generated at the Earth Garden office and solar energy purchased from a government utility to charge the EV, eliminating both carbon emissions and coal-fired power plant pollution .

Running car on sun a ‘natural fit’
“I have been personally committed to solar power as a solution to the world’s energy problems for many years,” explains Gray. “It seemed like a natural fit to run our house and our car from the sun.”

Gray believes only four or five people in Australia are powering their electric vehicles with solar. However, he predicts that this number will grow as EVs become more widely known and more media coverage of their benefits helps to improve consumer confidence.

The Earth Garden office has solar panels on the roof to supply some of the building’s electricity needs. Earth Garden’s system produces 1.5 kW hours of power a year and cost $20,000 (in U.S. dollars).

We are happy to pay extra to help put a cork in the massive oil flow that Australians encourage every year.
— Alan Gray, one of Australia’s first solar-charged drivers

To supplement the panels, the company purchases GreenPower through the Australian government. Through the GreenPower program, energy-users pay a few extra cents each day to purchase power created from renewable sources, including mini-hydro, wind and biomass.

Solar development in Australia has lagged behind competitor nations, partly because of the Australian government’s reliance on coal power and lack of support for solar, says Gray. But the industry outlook is improving with falling system costs, he notes.

A true zero-emissions vehicle
The combination of the office’s solar system and GreenPower energy purchases means the company’s EV is not adding coal pollution to the atmosphere during its six-hour charges.

Gray went to Blade Electric Vehicles (BEV), which was then in Harcourt, Victoria, for the conversion. According to Gray, BEV has since moved to nearby Castlemaine and is manufacturing its own EV, the Electron.

Gray says he was glad to be supporting a local, ethically-run business, one he considers to be the frontrunner of Australian EV producers.

alan-gray2“I heard about them, and immediately rang their CEO, Ross Blade, who is clearly a genius, and is the father of the Australian electric car industry,” says Gray.

“What made the Blade Runner particularly appealing to me is that it’s a here-and-now, local solution presented by an ethical small business,” Gray writes in an entry on the Green Wheels section of the Earth Garden website.

The process of converting Gray’s gas-powered Hyundai to electric involved completely removing and reworking the engine. The transformed car runs on 55 3.2 volt lithium ion batteries, installed under the floor in the rear of the vehicle.

The conversion cost AU $35,000 (US $31,741.50), which Gray thinks is reasonable for the amount he will save in not having to buy gasoline for years to come.

Gray said the vehicle should pay for itself in five years.

He financed the AU $35,000 conversion by adding the amount to the family’s mortgage in a “supplementary home loan.”

EVs reduce ‘massive’ oil flow into Australia
“We are happy to pay extra to help put a cork in the massive oil flow that Australians encourage every year,” he notes on the Green Wheels web site.

The vehicle goes more than 80 miles per hour, has 60 miles of distance between recharges, and is virtually (but not completely) silent. He drives it about 30 miles per day, and he says has not been disappointed with its performance.

“It has all the zip of its petrol equivalent,” says Gray.

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Since the conversion, Gray has encountered one problem with the vehicle. After 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles) and 18 months of driving, Gray had to replace the potentiometer, which controls and regulates the voltage flowing through the vehicle’s electrical circuits.

Before this replacement, Gray had driven the car every day without it needing any service.

The engine’s simplicity and BEV’s workmanship have made the vehicle easy to operate.

“I am no technician – my iPhone can bamboozle me at times – but I have had no trouble with the car,” he explains.

Gray’s vehicle has received much positive attention from admirers, especially during supermarket trips.

“When I come out to the car park with my groceries, there’s often a group of people who want to ask me heaps of questions about the car,” he notes.

Gray thinks once Australians learn more about EVs and how enjoyable they are to own, the vehicles will catch on.

EVs will catch on
“I think once people get over their initial nervousness about the unknown, and as more people realize how pleasant it is to drive EVs, they will become more popular,” he says.

EV’s would become more affordable, accessible, and popular if conversion companies had more business, says Gray.

One way to increase the number of conversions, and drive down up-front costs, would be for governments and companies to purchase fleets of EVs, Gray notes.

“If people who can afford such a car take the plunge, it will eventually drive down the unit cost of such conversions and make the car affordable to a wider number of people,” Gray writes on the Green Wheels site. “Many company and government fleets could afford to go electric today.”

Though excited about his EV and the possibility of the widespread use of EVS in the future, Gray knows these cars are only part of the answer. There are many other ways people can change habits to reduce carbon emissions.

“We need to use bicycles, our feet, public transport, fewer car journeys and maybe even second-generation biofuels to supplement the change to zero-emissions vehicles,” he notes.

For more on Earth Garden and Alan Gray, go to –>

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