Canadian Solar Car Designer Breaks Solar Car Distance Record—Travels 12,000 Miles, Proves ‘It Can Be Done’
In an inspiring example that the work of just one dedicated individual can have a tremendous impact on the development of game-changing technology, Canadian Marcelo da Luz is in the midst of a record-breaking journey across North America in his solar powered car, the Power of One. VerdeXchange News interviewed da Luz at a recent stop at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles—12,000 miles into his North American journey. His solar car consumes no oil, no gas, and runs solely on sunlight.
VerdeX: You started your epic solar car journey along the shores of the Great Lakes in June 2009 in a car that consumes no oil, no gas and runs solely on sunlight. You’ve driven around the Great Lakes, up to Northern Canada to the Artic Circle, through British Columbia and along the West Coast to Los Angeles. What point are you trying to make? What was the goal of your now completed, record setting 12,000-mile , solar car trip?
Marcelo da Luz: To show that it can be done. I don’t like looking at this solar car (The Power of One) as an answer for all of our transport needs. This car is a step in the right direction. This project, or any solar car, is an opportunity to test drive and develop new technology. It creates an opportunity to apply new technology; to find more practical applications. For example, the motor technology used for solar cars is now being used to make motors for household appliances.
VerdeX: What kind of attention have you attracted on this trip? What’s been the public’s reaction?
da Luz: It has been insane at times. The car creates a frenzy on highways. In Alaska someone called 911 reporting a UFO on the road. The public’s reaction is wonderful in many ways.
VerdeX: How do you describe ‘The Power of One” solar car?
da Luz: The best way to describe it is that it does look like a UFO. It is an electric car. It has a bank of batteries to store the power and an electric motor that
drives the car. Instead of plugging it into the wall to charge the batteries you plug into the sun. The top of the top of the car is covered in solar cells. The cells convert light into electricity. Altogether there are 893 cells that generate about 900 watts in the peak of summer. To put that into perspective, it also consumes about 1,000 watts. When the batteries are full we can drive for 140 miles at night and 300 miles during the day if it’s a bright, sunny day. The car can go from 0 to 50 mph in six seconds. Its top speed is 75 miles an hour.
VerdeX: You drove your solar car through a lot of jurisdictions. What were the legal and licensing challenges of driving a UFO 12,000 miles?
da Luz: Unfortunately, in 2004 there was an accident involving a University of Toronto solar car. The driver died in a head on collision. As a result, the Province of Ontario stopped issuing temporary permits for solar cars, which they had been doing since the early ‘90s. Now, if one aircraft falls out of the sky you don’t ground all airplanes. Ontario decided to do that in 2004. In 2005, I contacted the minister of transportation personally. I went to the minister of transportation’s office and spoke to his administrative assistants. I talked to the administrator himself and there was no change. They kept saying they would let me know when they had something in place. I asked them to give me the opportunity to work with them. I asked them to work with me on the project. There was no interest.
Without seeing a light at the end of our tunnel, I came across a 1949 Geneva Treaty. I started contacting countries around the world. The United Arab Emirates agreed to license the car. Eighteen seconds after I got that confirmation I sent an email to the Premier of Ontario. I said that I was going to license the car in another country and there was nothing that he or his government could do to stop me from driving the car in Ontario, because it was going to be protected by the 1949 Geneva Treaty. However, I invited him to be part of the project and turn this into a positive experience. Two weeks later we got a phone call that I could now apply for a permit in Ontario.
I looked at the rules and regulations that they now were imposing. I am the only guy building a solar car in Canada; therefore, the rules and regulations they adopted only applied to me. They required that anyone driving a solar car—there are 2,000 kilometers of road in Ontario—put a sign on the road saying that an experimental vehicle would be driving on that road. I refused to do that. My reason: if you are as curious as I am and you see a sign on the road saying that an experimental vehicle is going to be driving on that road—people will wait for the car to pass by. If people congregate, there will be families there, with kids; and if an accident happened—I did not want to be responsible for that. So that’s why I refused to put a sign on the road.
Another requirement is to have a letter from all municipalities saying that the road chosen is a low traffic road. In Northern Ontario there are only two roads, and they merge. No one in their sane mind would issue a letter saying that it was a low traffic road. So basically Ontario made it impossible for me. I had no other choice other than taking the car somewhere else or stopping the project.
It broke my heart not starting the drive in Canada; it’s a Canadian project. That is what I would have liked to have done. I ended up licensing the car in another country. I had a symbolic start in Toronto, Ontario, at Seneca College on the private parking lot. I then took the car across the border to Buffalo, New York, to start driving. I drove through seven states in order to get around Ontario. I entered Canada right at the border between Ontario and Manitoba. I drove across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon, and then south around Alaska and again into the Yukon, British Columbia, then I went through Washington, Oregon, and now California.
VerdeX: Isn’t it ironic that you’ve ended up being heroically welcomed at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles?
da Luz: Well, it is a Canadian project. I feel that Canada is a wonderful country. It has incredible and wonderful people, with great ideas, who are very supportive of the government. I am proud to be here, and I am proud to be Canadian. This is wonderful to be here and to be recognized by my peers and countrymen that what I am doing is positive.
VerdeX: Why did you name the project “Power of One”?
da Luz: I believe that one individual can make a difference. I believe that one person can change the world if we all did a little bit. That’s what I’m trying to do here, to inspire people. If we can inspire someone and they do something to inspire somebody else then it’s a chain reaction. The world would be a different place if we all did that.
VerdeX: Will There be a “Power of Two” Project Car?
da Luz: Yes, that’s the name of the next car. The next vehicle will have a design that is more practical.
VerdeX: You started building this solar car nine years ago. Describe its technology. Elaborate on the next generation technologies that have come to market recently that you might want to incorporate into your “The Power of Two.”
da Luz: Even when I first started building this car there we re better components that I could have used to build the car. I only used what I could afford.
There are a lot of technologies I would like to incorporate in Power of Two. For example, we are using the latest in battery. We are using the latest technology in batteries, the lithium ion polymer. They have actually survived me. They have taken a lot of abuse and that’s a testimony that the technology is ready, it’s mature, and it is available today. We could be using it. Anybody could be driving an electric car today that uses that kind of technology. So that’s something that I will definitely be looking to use in the next vehicle.
There are better cells now that are more efficient. That might change the design of the car, affecting the amount of area that is available for solar cells. I would use different cells that are more efficient and commercially available today.
VerdeX: Would it be a two-seater so you can get in the car pool lane?
da Luz: It would definitely be a two-seater because the single seat is not a chick magnet. I can’t have a puppy in the car, so I have to have a at least a two-seater car.
VerdeX: Is your goal mainly to inspire”further work on the development of marketable solar cars? Or, are you personally trying to entrepreneurially bring the next great solar car to market?
da Luz: I haven’t filed for any patents on this project. I have been keeping all of the information free and it is available to anyone, anywhere. I have been sharing information about this car with people and universities all over the world. I didn’t want money to be the motivating factor behind this project—that’s why I am broke. I did this because I believe it in. I have learned so much. I would like to use what I have learned to perhaps develop a business to design more practical vehicles that everybody could use everyday.
VerdeX: You have logo stickers on your car, presumably of those companies who have supported “The Power of One”? Are you looking for sponsors?
da Luz: Absolutely. All of the stickers on the car, about 14 or so, are from companies that have donated products, service, or given me a discount on products or service that I was able to use during the development of the project. But we don’t have a single sponsor for the actual program.
I have fulfilled my promise and my obligations with all of the sponsors. I have lifted an incredible amount of weight off of my shoulders. Nine years ago when I started this project I started knocking on doors and asking for people for help under the assumption that I would deliver a world-distance record. I have accomplished that I have fulfilled my promise.
VerdeX: Where more would like to accomplish if such sponsorship support materialized?
da Luz: I would like to continue driving across North America to visit other states and more cities and do more presentations to get more people inspired. I get a kick out of going to schools and talking to kids. When I see the excitement I feel that I’m inspiring the leaders of tomorrow. I don’t want to say that I’ve lost hope for adults, but children are the future. If we can set their minds in the right direction it will change the world. We might be able to wait for our generation but perhaps we can put the tools in the hands of the kids who by the time they get to our age will be doing only the right things.
VerdeX: How do people contact you if they have an interest in sponsoring you?
da Luz: You can contact through the website, www.xof1.com. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. For anyone with kids, we have a page for education where we teach kids to make a new own solar car using things we have at home. It is very good science project for the kids.