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Doran Motor Company, Inc.

16121 Saint Croix Circle Huntington Beach, CA 92649 (714) 377-7776

[email protected] Vehicles. com PLEASE SEE OUR WEBSITE or call for a brochure package

Gorilla Vehicles

Doran Motor Company, Inc.

16121 Saint Croix Circle Huntington Beach, CA 92649 (714) 377-7776


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Laurent Koechlin

©2005 Laurent Koechlin

Laurent Koechlin

©2005 Laurent Koechlin

Sunracers (from front to back) Solelhada, Kamm, and Helios, at the race finale in Toulouse, France.

This was the first night stage we organized, and to my knowledge, the first time ever that a solar race took place at night. As a prologue to the rest of the race, we tested the concept on a short, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) nighttime trip from the village of Age to Puigcerda and back. At 10 PM, the bright stars in the mountain sky only shed some 10-7 watts (one ten-millionth of a watt) per square meter. However, nobody was stalled by the lack of energy. It had been stored the day before.

Racing by the Grid

For solar vehicles to operate completely independently, a large area of highly efficient photovoltaic (PV) panels is required—for example, 8 square meters (26 ft2) of 20 percent efficiency solar-electric panels. This is an expensive application that can cost at least US$40,000 per vehicle. Even with all that PV, at best the system only peaks at 2 or 3 kilowatts, and achieving high speeds with so little power requires a specially designed vehicle, like a sunracer.

Sunracers rely entirely on their onboard solar-electric panels for electricity, which allow them to ride at sustained speeds of 60 to 90 kilometers per hour (37-56 mph) on a flat road. A battery serves as a buffer, absorbing the surplus electricity when driving downhill or at low speeds under the sun, or boosting the motor up to 130 kph (81 mph) as needed. Sunracers are definitely not for everyday transportation, however. With their fragile carbon-fiber bodies, these three-wheeled vehicles only weigh from 200 to 300 kilograms (441-661 pounds) and can cost more than a Ferrari.

Rallye Phebus is an annual solar-powered race that links the Pyrenean mountain crests at the Spanish border to the French city of Toulouse, 200 kilometers (124 miles) to the north. Our previous solar rallies only had daytime stages, but last year we decided to make a demonstration, among other things, that solar energy can be used on the road by day—and even by night!

Last year, out of the twelve electric vehicles entered in the race, only three were sunracers. The other nine were electric scooters and bicycles, some homebrew vehicles, and even some conventional cars that had been converted to electric vehicles. These vehicles use electricity to recharge their batteries—it cannot be provided by onboard solar-electric panels, since they don't carry any. A car's rooftop lacks the space to accommodate the large number of PV panels that would be required to power the vehicle. This isn't surprising—not even nature has found a way to power fast-moving beings directly from the sun. (After all, have you ever seen animals with leaves?) However, all of the energy used during the four days of this rally is derived from renewable, solar sources (except for a few internal combustion-engine vehicles that transport the prototypes before and after the rally).

So how can a vehicle without any solar-electric panels work on solar energy alone, and even race through the night? The answer can be found not on the road, but on some rooftops. Take mine, for example. It's covered with 16 square meters (52 ft2) of PV panels. These 36 panels have been tied to the grid since 1996, and provide up to 1,450 watts.

moon race

In the eight years since my system started operation, it has produced more than 2,000 KWH per year on average. If one day I save enough money to convert the 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit I use for commuting, I will be able to drive almost 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) per year using the energy my PV system produces, without fossil fuels and without contributing any greenhouse gases to the environment.

About 250 households in France are grid-tied PV producers. This number increased rapidly until a few years ago, when the side effects of a French bill slowed the process by requiring excessive paperwork and causing administrative delays. Although we have more sun than our neighbor Germany, we have far fewer grid-tied systems. Despite this, enough grid-tied PV arrays exist along the race route to feed our vehicles' needs. The secret to our daytime and nighttime solar race success is that we use the French utility grid to carry and store our solar-electric energy. We simply measure the KWHs that come out of the home meters and, from that, subtract the KWH readings on the meters that monitor the vehicles' battery chargers.

And the Winners Are...

The scope of this rally is to show that using solar energy for transportation is feasible and becoming more affordable. As with other events of this type, many other facets are involved, such as having fun together, comparing experiences, cross-fertilizing ideas, and creating vocations for young engineers in renewable energy technologies. So what makes it a rally? Is there a competition? Yes, there is! However, it's not based on speed. Instead, vehicles are evaluated on their reliability, energy management, and fitness to different road conditions.

While parked, the Kamm sunracer can tilt its PV panels for maximum solar exposure.

Moon Power— Sheer Lunacy?

As for "lunar energy," don't dream of powering or charging anything with it. The moon, even at its fullest, yields 10-3 watts per square meter—much more than the stars, but still 1 million times less than the sun. This means that a photovoltaic (PV) array rated for 1 kilowatt of peak power under the sun yields at most 1 milliwatt in moonshine. This is barely enough to light an LED. In most cases, the output voltage from the whole PV array under moonlight will not even reach the 2 or 3 volts necessary to overcome the LED voltage barrier.

A point system scores the rally, and the winner is the one who receives the most points. Each kilometer traveled successfully earns the participant 10 or 15 points, depending on the slope. Each minute spent repairing or pushing a vehicle during a stage costs racers 10 points. And each KWH "taken" from the grid to recharge a vehicle costs 50 to 150 points, depending on the vehicle type. Every vehicle starts with a full battery, and every KWH is accounted for. In the 2004 Rallye Phebus, solar-charged vehicles consumed a total of 20.9 KWH over the race route. During the same four-day period, the grid-tied solar arrays along the rally route produced a total of 51.8 KWH, more than twice the KWHs required by the vehicles.

The rally has witnessed increased public interest over its short history. Last year's race drew the largest crowds ever, and an estimated 100,000 people tuned in to a radio program dedicated to the rally. In Europe, where the diesel engine rules the road and produces prodigious amounts of pollution, it's heartening to see people interested and curious about tapping into solar energy for transportation.


Laurent Koechlin, Lieu-dit Sauveterre, 31320 Aureville, France • 33-56-176-7591 •

Rallye Phebus •

Centre Energies Renouvelables Phebus Ariege, Le Ploumail, 09600 Dun, France • Phone/Fax: 33-56-168-6217 •

[email protected] • Phebus Ariege Renewable Energy Center

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