It could be a first: a solar scooter.
It’s a small, standup scooter with a can't-be-missed 100-watt solar panel bolted to its handle bars. It has a battery but you don’t plug it in. The energy comes directly from the sun and will briefly store in the scooter's battery.
It’s called the solarolla. Inventor and inveterate tinkerer Brett Cameron Belan put it together in his Ashland shop in a couple weeks, using a drill, chopsaw and a bag of bolts, quickly realizing that it’s unique for one-simple reason: You carry the charging system with you.
No matter where you take it, the sun is there. On a hot, clear day, it fully charges even while you’re riding it. On a cloudy day, it still gets some charge. Belan figures that if you drive it an hour, you need to charge it for an hour.
The tiny “dashboard” is really just a cellphone and an app that provides information on voltage, usage and power and, of course, uses GPS and bluetooth speaker to tell you were you are.
Belan, who previously built a large solar panel atop his Volkswagen bus, is a graduate of Michigan Tech, a public research university, where he got his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1997. He went on to work for Ford in Detroit and Jaguar in England.
Belan, 44, however, now disparages the idea of driving to market in an expensive 2-ton car just for a bag of groceries, noting there is no reason a shopper couldn't instead hop on a “grocery grabber” scooter and do it with no waste of atmosphere-destroying fossil fuels — and at the same time find easy parking.
“I made it stupid simple, with controls for solar and battery," he says. "It’s on the road where solar power and electric vehicles come together — and it has that freedom of taking the charger with you.”
As drivers move into the age of electric vehicles, people have “range anxiety,” which is a subtle panic that they will exceed their range and find themselves sitting in the middle of nowhere with no charging station nearby.
“This mitigates addiction withdrawal from range anxiety,” he jokes. “You can be out camping and not only can you run anything (electrical) that you like, but you can charge from the sun and go. On a sunny day, you can drive indefinitely, stopping for an hour here or there. It’s a solar chariot.”
The solar vehicle has two small wheels on the back and one in front. A rear platform holds a basket for groceries. The driver stands at all times.
It will go under 25 mph, so it’s not a motorcycle. Going 15 or 20 mph is more realistic in town, he says. The scooter is designed to go anywhere a bicycle can go — on the Greenway and in bike lanes and, with care, on streets.
Belan estimates the cost at this point is about $1,500. The legalities haven’t been worked out yet, but he says he believes drivers will need to be 16, have a driver’s license and wear a helmet.
Under Oregon law, ORS 801.348, electric (or combustion) scooter drivers are not required to have a license, registration or insurance, but must be 16 and must wear a helmet. Passengers are not allowed and the vehicles cannot exceed 24 mph. Local jurisdictions can set their own restrictions on usage.
Although many would look at the solar chariot as a million-dollar idea, Belan eschews the startup-corporate investor model and wants to make them as a nonprofit, living on state and foundation grants that support solar — while paying himself a modest salary.
“On a summer day, it’s so much fun. You have the charger with you and sun is spilling out of the sky. Energy is always coming in.”
Belan's website is solarrolla.com. Pre-orders and a Kickstarter campaign are on the horizon.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.