Are solar powered rigs on the horizon?

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Brett Belen is aiming to harvest enough power from the sun to run his campervan. PIC:  Brett Belen
Brett Belen is aiming to harvest enough power from the sun to run his campervan. PIC: Brett Belen

Taking the Big Lap of Australia in an electric vehicle that harvests all of its energy from the sun is perhaps the ultimate grey nomad dream … and it may just be edging just a kilometre or two closer.

American Brett Belen is a long-time builder of solar electric vehicles, and he reckons he has made a massive breakthrough with his latest creation … a solar-powered Volkswagen campervan. The thinking behind the project was that tilting a large photovoltaic array would help offer maximum solar exposure and create extra space within the vehicle itself delivering a more comfortable cabin for travellers … and it worked.

The entire roof of the vehicle consists of four 305 watt panels combined together to offer a 1,220 watt array which pivots from the front of the van up to a maximum of about 40°. This allows happy campers to catch the full impact of the sun and the van can be moved as the day wears on to maximise its energy creating potential. The array can theoretically put out eight amps total at 150 volts into the battery.

The solar masterpiece features 12 lead-acid batteries which provide 150 amp hours at a 20-hour rate, and there are separate displays on the dashboard to monitor the health and performance of each battery. According to Brett, who lives in Oregon and travels in the van with his young family, it takes just over a day to fully charge the battery bank depending on the length of day and the strength of the sun.

The vehicle can also be charged via a grid connection, with a full battery recharge taking about two hours and 20 minutes.

And, the million dollar question … how far will a charge take you? Well, according to Brett, an average day of solar charging at his home will produce a range of about 20-25 kilometres of city driving.

So, for now at least, it’s back to the bowser for the grey nomads of Australia!

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