Solar Simplification at it’s finest

Solar panels with Rick

Solar panels with Rick

THUNDER BAY – Shop Local – Being a solar enthusiast, I always want to have a vehicle that was powered by light and be totally emission free, using the knowledge gained from years of playing with solar. I started the project with a search for a good electric bike.

Solar Trike

My first concept was to use a two wheeled electric bike and adapt some solar panels to it. Trying to figure out everything from direct mounting of panels to an e-bike, to a tow along trailer. It soon became apparent that the complexity and safety of a solarized two wheeled vehicle became decisively wrong. Eventually, I decided it was more beneficial to go to an e-trike. Balance, weight carrying and area for mounting the solar panels fit perfectly for what I wanted to do.

With the concept in hand, I started searching the internet for possible designs and finally came across an e-trike called the Dragon. Digging deeper into the world of the Dragon e-trike, I became satisfied with what it had to offer and with a little more digging, found out that a dealer in Thunder Bay sold them, Golectric, Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is located at the Victoriaville Centre.

Knowing were the store was located, I headed over and found the owner, Mac Gamble. Looking around the store I noticed their was only one e-trike in the shop, but not the one I was looking for. Mac informed me that he had the one I was looking for on order and he would have it in a couple of weeks. Inquiring on the price, I was told the price was around $2800-tax included. It was a done deal, I agreed to buy the one he had coming.

After a few weeks of patiently waiting, the e-trike arrived.

The next part of the mission to solarize the e-trike, was to match up the electrical system of the e-trike with that of a solar panels. The e-trike has 4-12v @ 20amphrs batteries in series to give a 48v system. With a little searching, I found what I needed, 3-50watt panels (each panel produces 2.9amps @ 17v and weighed around 12 lbs) at I&C Solar on Squire St. The staff at I&C are very helpful, and actually helped with solving the panel requirements, I was looking at 4-50 watters, but got informed that 3 would do the trick.

Now with the e-trike and solar panels in tow, the interesting part started, blending the solar panels to the e-trike. As part of the design, I wanted to be able to get the panels to be able to pivot horizontally, to create an ability to position the panels to gain as much light as possible. It took a few weeks to collect all the parts, aluminum angle iron, 5/8 aluminum rod, nuts and bolts and since I had no tools for the build, those too needed to be purchased, which included a cordless drill, files, hacksaw, hammer, punch.

Total assembly time was about five days. Two days for bolting the three 50 watt panels together, and using the angle iron for added strength and rigidity.

Three days to build the mounting system to secure the panels to the deck of the e-trike. The aluminum rod was used to attach the panels to the mounting brackets on the deck of the trike and allow the panels to be orientated to the sun when needed.

Total cost of the project, $3600.

With the solar panels and e-trike now in a symbiotic match, it was time to take it for a test ride. Traveling around Boulevard Lake, doing some hill climbs, motoring down to Casino and then headed back, making a pit stop for a drive through coffee at Tim Hortons.

The design and build was a success, I now had a self charging, fuel-less personal transporter. The following day, I made the round trip, stopping in at the solar dealer and then to the e-trike dealer.

Using the solar panels has extended the range from 50km (using only the batteries), to an estimated range of 200-300km on a sunny day and 75-100kms on really cloudy day.

Next part of the project is on the process to use passive solar heating and resistive heating from the panels to keep to batteries warm for winter use.

Thanks go out to Golectric Thunder Bay, and I&C Solar for the help and patients. Also a thank you to JP Fraser of the Lake Superior Art Gallery for the suggestion and help to submit this article.

I always believed it was possible to use light as an energy source for personal transportation. Hope to see a few more solarized e-trikes on the road in the near future.

Rick Small, your friendly neighbourhood Light Rider.

Notes: Golectric Thunder Bay has been selling Ebikes for 4 years, and are dealers for, Veloteq, Dragon Ebikes, Gio Ebikes, A2B Ebikes, and Ecolo-Cycle.