The first ever completely solar-powered vehicle to attempt an overland journey around the world drove into Kunming yesterday, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
The Solartaxi – with its space age exterior and bumper car-like interior - stopped to meet with the head of Kunming's Environmental Protection Bureau before heading off for an official reception by Kunming Mayor Zhang Zulin at the World Horticulture Expo Garden.
The Solartaxi set off from its birthplace of Lucerne, Switzerland on its round-the-world trip on July 3, 2007, coinciding with the European Sustainable Energy Forum. Without using a drop of petrol it has so far travelled 26,231 km (16,300 miles) through 19 European cities, the Middle East, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and Laos.
462Shanghai New Energy Expo#http://www.goingtomeet.com/conventions/details/30849# on May 9.
The Solartaxi world tour initiator, Louis Palmer, cycled across Africa and crossed the USA and South America by ultra-light plane before deciding to use a solar car to demonstrate that everyone can take a step towards preserving the planet.
"As a regular citizen I cannot change the world," Palmer said, "But I can demonstrate to the world just how dire the global climate situation has become and how many sophisticated solutions to lower the greenhouse gases already exist - which bring with them many other advantages."
The Solartaxi took three years to build with the assistance of over 200 assistants, including The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and three Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences.
The car pulls a trailer equipped with high-efficiency solar panels from main sponsor, Q-Cells. This generates roughly half of the electricity needed to run the car. The other half is generated through solar panels on top of the headquarters of sponsor Swisscom and reaches the solartaxi through the grid – the solar taxi recharges its batteries at Swiss embassies, whenever possible. The grid works like a bank, from where Palmer can withdraw his earlier deposits when travelling by night or on a cloudy day. The Solartaxi can travel 400 km on one charge, reaching a top speed of 90km/h.
"I had no money and no knowledge about how to make this car," Palmer said. "But I met people along the way who were willing to help. Now the Swiss government is supporting me and every country I go to I'm in the newspapers. It is really amazing!"
GoKunming joined Palmer for a ride in the Solartaxi, during which time he shared some of his stories on the road. Since leaving Switzerland, Palmer has ridden with Jordanian princes in the passenger seat, crossed 3,000 km of Saudi Arabian desert in scorching 51 degrees Celsius (132 degrees Fahrenheit) heat unable to drink water because it was Ramadan and driven through Syria accompanied by a VIP-style motorcade provided by the transport minister.
"Something weird happens everyday," said Thomas Gottschalk, Solartaxi mechanic and one of the two permanent crew members. Though Gottschalk says that the perpetual road-tripping experience and constant media spotlight can get a bit intense, with new crew members floating on and off over the ever-changing landscape, the tour has provided him with a unique opportunity to connect with the world.
"I love that through this I can get in contact with local people. Get inside their life; see how life is on Earth," Gottschalk said.
While Palmer hopes to change the world by "rekindl[ing] hope and a zest for life, set[ting] an example to counteract resignation and stimulate reflection," he also gives due credit to tightening pursestrings for surprisingly helping his cause.
"It's great because now people are thinking about the energy and cost of driving because petrol prices are rising."
The Solartaxi tour is the fulfilment of a childhood dream for Palmer. Drawings from when he was 14 years old show the first design for a solar-powered car with which to travel the world. But Palmer puts it down to coincidence.
"What I dreamed when I was a child just happens to be what I am doing now. I think it's amazing that no one has done this kind of thing yet. I don't want to be part of the [climate] problem; I want to be part of the solution. Everyone's just got to do a little bit."
Louis Palmer and the Solartaxi will be at Yunnan Normal University's Solar Energy Research Institute from 2:30 pm today for a presentation.