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Sun power 

Since he was 14 years old, Louis Palmer dreamed of traveling the world in a solar-powered vehicle. Born in Budapest and raised in Switzerland, the 36-year-old substitute schoolteacher has traveled across the world through 60 countries. His globetrotting lifestyle allowed him to view first-hand the widespread damage that climate change has already wrought

click to enlarge HE FOLLOWS THE SUN:  Louis Palmer plans to zoom into Santa Margarita on July 20 in his solar-powered car, while circumnavigating the world - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOUIS PALMER
  • HE FOLLOWS THE SUN: Louis Palmer plans to zoom into Santa Margarita on July 20 in his solar-powered car, while circumnavigating the world
Palmer regarded his realization that humans are impacting the world—and not for the better—as a challenge, to which he must personally respond. Instead of returning to the classroom, he dedicated himself to finding a solution to global warming, and proving that humans could break their dependency on fossil fuels.

Just over a year ago, on July 3, 2007, Palmer set off on a round-the-world expedition in a solar-powered vehicle called the Solartaxi. He was not alone. In fact, he was accompanied by a team of similar-minded environmentalists from a broad array of backgrounds. Palmer’s effort marks the first occasion that a solar- powered vehicle is traveling across the planet. The group is presently touring the Pacific Northwest, and anticipates arriving in Santa Margarita on July 20th.

The Solartaxi is an electric vehicle with a five-meter solar trailer covered with six square meters of solar cells. Electricity is stored in a newly invented ZEBRA battery, allowing the vehicle to function at night. The solar cells on the trailer produce enough electricity to drive the car up to 100 km (62.1 miles) a day.

“I want to show to the people all over in the world that with a solar car I can even drive around the world,” Palmer stated. “This is an easy way to bring the kids to school or go shopping or to work. You can also save†a lot of money. For driving 100 km, the electricity from the grid for charging the battery costs 80 cents.”

Building a solar-powered vehicle was no simple task. Palmer’s experiences as a teacher did little to prepare him for the task. To prepare himself for the technical feat he visited four Swiss universities, which assisted with the engineering aspect of the construction. In 1986, a young Palmer sketched up his first drawing of a solar vehicle, and, in 2004, the first outlines for the Solartaxi were produced. Finally, in October of 2005, production of the vehicle began. About 200 people were involved in the project and production, from start to finish.

The Solartaxi’s journey began in Palmer’s hometown of Lucerne, Switzerland, and the little green car that could has already traveled through destinations including Seoul, South Korea, Beijing, China, Canada, and the U.S. The journey will bring the group through Berlin, as well, and Palmer plans to attend the World Climate Change Conference in Poland in December. The journey is slated to conclude in Switzerland just before Christmas after traveling 50,000 km (31,068.5 miles), 18 months, and to 40 countries.

Thus far, Palmer says that his Solartaxi has received enthusiastic support from the public.

“People love this car and the idea,” he said. “Of course for a mass production we must modify it a lot. Also the car could be bigger and have four wheels. People everywhere want to buy such a car, but they are frustrated that they still can’t buy it. Instead, they have to waste a lot of their money for petroleum.

“I have been traveling even before, so the previous travels had more of an impact than this one,” Palmer continued. “But now I feel that this travel makes sense. A lot of sense. And people listen to me, and we get great media coverage so far everywhere. So I am sure I will be very satisfied when I go back home. I feel like I am not part of a problem, I am part of the solution.”

Intern Jen Ingan compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to


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