The Amazing Louis Palmer

Last night I went to an excellent talk by Loius Palmer, famous for driving the Solar Taxi around the world in 2007 – 2008. His stories of the trip were very funny and it was just amazing to see what one very motived guy can do. He has also rode the length of Africa by push bike, and flown across the USA at 60 km/hr in an ultralight. An example of a life well lived. If you get a chance to see Louis talk in person or on video I highly recommend it.

He was in Adelaide to help promote the Zero Race, an 80 day race around the world in zero-emission vehicles. In particular the talk was to help our local team entering the race – Team Trev. Trev is a very novel 2 seater car that weighs only 350kg and is assembled from a novel composite material that is simply folded like cardboard. The light weight makes it extremely energy efficient – about 1 cent/km (compared to my EV at about 3 cents/km) for electricity.

Louis has a passion for Electric cars. In particular “solar cars” – electric cars charged by PV arrays on domestic roofs. The key take away was that solar powered EVs like mine are totally possibly today. You should be able to buy a small electric car with a 200km range for $10,000, then run it for free from a $5000 PV solar array. He is puzzled why the big manufacturers don’t get it, and expects the small innovative companies will eat their lunch. I agree.

Louis had some great graphs that showed the big problems with current “green” technologies, like hybrids (glorified petrol cars, excessively complex), biofuels (not enough land in the world), and hydrogen (uses 3 times the electricity/km of battery electric cars). All duds.

He sees China as the best hope in a world naively sailing towards Peak Oil. They lead the world in Solar Cell production and have over 100M electric vehicles (mainly scooters). Australia, on the other hand, leads the world in per-person carbon emissions. Although I am happy to say that South Australia (my state) is getting very close to 20% renewable electricity thanks to a bunch of wind farms going over the last decade. We also have great PV feed-in tarrifs (I get paid 55 cents/kWh for electricity I export to the grid, and pay only 20 cents/kWh for import). Australia also has a pretty good rebate scheme for home PV solar arrays, that cover perhaps $4500 of the typical installation cost.

Louis had some great quotes, for example “if we can afford to bail out banks and big car companies, why can’t we afford to bail out our children?” During his Solar Taxi travels he noticed a lone solar panel on a roof in Canada. He asked the owner, an indigenous Canadian lady, why she had such a panel. She said, “We natives think 3 generations ahead”.

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