Green Technology

Solar Cannonball Continues At A Record Snail’s Pace


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In a previous article, I covered the story of Joe Kliewer, a man on a mission to set an automotive record. While most people aim for speed in a Cannonball attempt, Joe is instead aiming to be the first to go from New York City to the Los Angeles Metro powered by nothing but the sun.

As far as I know, the first documented “Cannonball Sun” effort involved the creation of a custom solar car resembling those often seen in university solar car competitions. Unfortunately, their attempt came to a halt during the summer of 2021 due to mechanical and electronic failures. The vehicle came to a stop in Indiana, still more than 2,000 miles away from the finish line. So, a Solar Cannonball record has not been set yet, at any speed.

Instead of constructing a university science vessel, Joe opted to use something a lot more normal: a Tesla Model Y. While the previous team struggled to complete the task, Joe seems pretty likely to finish it, albeit at a slower pace than a vehicle built from the ground up to do this. To power his journey, he installed a 5 kWh battery pack in the trunk, which he charges using 6.4 kilowatts of portable and lightweight solar panels. This 5 kWh buffer pack then supplies the Model Y with energy through a regular portable EVSE.

He originally figured the journey would take about 20 days, based on some simple math. If the Model Y could go around 300 miles (driven carefully), then a journey of around 3,000 miles could be done in ten steps. With a battery capacity of around 80 kWh, and around 6.4 kW of solar power, he figured it would take around 12-13 hours of good sun to charge the car. Under ideal conditions, a day’s worth of sun would almost cover that, so two days should give room for inefficiencies, right?

But when charging takes more than two days, the trip can get very long. On his first charging stop, he camped at Shenandoah National Park for several days. Clouds, rain, and other issues meant that in those five days, his portable solar setup only charged the car to about 60%. Facing continued bad conditions, he decided to go ahead and move on to a state park in Virginia.

For the second leg, he used some spreadsheets, Google Earth’s elevation profile tool, and other tools he came up with to plan a 200-mile trip on that 60% of battery. He did mention that he wants to eventually use A Better Routeplanner, but trusts his own spreadsheets more now.

Like the first leg, he went at night to not drive during time that could be used for solar charging. The trip was completed at 3 AM, and the campsite looked like a ghost town. Fall camping isn’t popular in many places, it seems.

During this most recent video, he rather insightfully explained that his trip is more like the early expeditions across the United States than more recent speed-based Cannonballs. For him and what he’s doing, simply completing the journey sets a record, and getting it done at all is a real feat all by itself.

His biggest challenge this time was to get all of the panels set up in such a way as to maximize output. The video goes into greater detail, but it took him a lot of thinking and experimenting to get his solar output up to maximum with the cabling he had on hand.

As with the first stop, it took him days to charge, and the only thing he could do was explore the park. He charged for five days, but managed to get to 99% this time, enabling a full charge for the next leg of the trip.

Sadly, this video is new, but depicts things that happened more than ten days ago. So far, I haven’t been able to find any updated information of social media feeds with more information about how his journey is going. If everything went really well, he could be as far as Arkansas or Oklahoma by now. I’ll keep reaching out to see what details I can get and maybe do an interview when he passes through my area.

Some Thoughts On This

First off, I’d imagine that the last few legs of the trip are going to go a lot nicer than the first few. After all, the sunny southwest portion of the United States is known for its abundant solar power and minimal cloudy weather. Even so, the trip looks like it could take up to two months all in all.

While two months is a really long time for a trip across the United States, I think something really cool is proven here, even if some idiot on Facebook tried to use this as “evidence” that the “scam” of renewables had been revealed to the public (feel free to go tell that guy what you think). After all, this is not an experiment in any kind of practical clean transportation. Nobody in their right mind, and most people not in their right mind would even try this. It’s just too impractical for anything but a record-setting run or as is said online, “…for science.”

But, not all practical things we take for granted today started as practical things. The first cars took months to cross the United States, and there were no planes. Trains were the fastest way in those days, but just a few decades before that, trains simply couldn’t cross the continent (this changed on May 10, 1869 with the driving of the “Golden Spike” in Utah). Before that, it was either a trip by foot, horse, or ox-pulled wagon or a trip around South America by boat, and both of these options involved a serious risk of death.

But, today, after early adventurers and entrepreneurs proved it out, all of these modes of transport are viable. Cars can cross in as little as a day (if one is good enough at avoiding cops). Trains can cross along several routes. Boats can take a shortcut through the Panama Canal, and are a lot safer than 19th century sailing vessels.

Joe isn’t doing something that’s useful today, but proving that the continent can be crossed without infrastructure or fossil fuels can lead to better things in the future.

Featured image: a screenshot from Joe Kliewer’s YouTube Channel.

 


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