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Published February 7, 2008 09:35 AM

Solar Taxi Arrives Down Under!

After a brief and wet stint in Sydney, the Solar Taxi has made its way to Canberra to visit our proud nation's capital.

The Solar Taxi is a round the world venture undertaken by Swiss adventurer Louis Palmer. Embarking on his journey in July last year, to date, Palmer has done over 15923 kilometres in his custom made solar powered vehicle. His trip has been a momentous one, from royal passengers, vehicle breakdowns and rainy days.

Palmer is using the trip to raise awareness on climate change and demonstrate what one person can do. "The solar taxi should rekindle hope and a zest for life, set an example to counteract resignation and stimulate reflection. And show that every single one of us can take a step towards preserving our planet," he says.

The car pulls a trailer equipped with high-efficiency solar panels from his main sponsor Q-Cells which generate roughly 50% of the electricity needed to run the car. The other half is generated through solar panels on top of the headquarters of sponsor Swisscom and reaches the solartaxi through the grid – symbolized by the fact that the solar taxi recharges its batteries at Swiss embassies, whenever possible. The grid works like a bank, from where Palmer can withdraw his earlier deposits when travelling by night or on a cloudy day.

What does the Swiss pioneer think of the Land Down Under? In his most recent blog post, after meeting up with a fellow alternative fuel inspired driver, Rudi, (whose own vehicle is powered by cooking oil), Palmer mentions a number of difficulties with police. "A policewoman gets [Rudi] to blow into in a bag because he apparently failed to give way to a police car. The policewoman takes it all with humor – everyone laughs when they see Rudi’s car anyway. "Have you drunk any alcohol in the past two hours?", she asks. Rudi answers conscientiously and quite seriously: "Madame, I have not touched a drop in 20 years!"

Read more about the Solar Taxi

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Green Pages interviews Louis Palmer on the Solar Taxi.

Louis Palmer is the proud initiator, tour-director and driver of the Solar Taxi Project.
Louis Palmer, born in Budapest, moved to Switzerland when he was only 16 months old. After his teacher training, he went travelling, always on the move to new horizons: He crossed Africa by bike and the United States and South America by ultra-light airplane. The Solar taxi is his latest project.
He speaks with Green Pages about his journey.

GP: First off, where are you now?

LP: In Canberra

GP: How did this project start? Was it something you had always wanted to do?

LP: I had a dream when I was 14 years old: I wanted to drive around the world and enjoy the beauty of this world, but how, if I had to use a petrol car? So I dreamt of a solar car, and I was sure, when I will be 30, everybody will drive solar cars. But now I am 36, and I can not even buy one. So I decided to build one myself and drive it around the world. I am a school teacher, so at the beginning I had no idea how to build one.

GP: You must have some great stories to share. Can you share a particularly memorable one with us?

LP: We had a little traffic accident in Syria, but nothing really happened. When the transport minister heard about it, he decided to give me a Police escort. So even when I wanted to go to the shop for buying a juice, the Police escorted me and cleared the road with blaring sirens.

GP: So, what are your thoughts on Australia so far?

LP: Great country and I am very happy to be here. There is plenty of sunshine, but I hardly see solar installations. Signing the Kyoto protocoll is one thing. Now the steps have to follow.

GP: How do Australian "attitudes" on climate change and environmental issues compare to people from other cultures?

LP: When the whole world is talking about global warming, but Australia as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases says that there is not enough evidence for that, then Australia is not making many friends. Luckily, these days are over. I hope. So far, no matter which country, there is very much awareness around for global warming. In Australia there are many people, too, who want to see major changes, that Australia becomes part of the solution and not part of the problem. I guess we can even reach the tipping point, because your continent is affected a lot by climate change, and if no steps are being undertaken, the price will be much too high for later. The situation here and the resulting movements and ideas here in Australia could inspire the rest of the world.

GP: What about in Switzerland and Europe where you're from? Do you find that people are more aware of what's happening in the environment and is it a normal part of life?

LP: In no country in the world, unfortunatly, environment and its protection is a normal part of life. Listening to the scientists of this world, we have to reduce the carbon emissions within a decade to 10 %. Not a single country is even getting close to a major reduction of greenhouse gases. In every country we need much more pressure from the public, from the people. I can not say if the people are more aware in Europe or in Australia.

GP: What's the feasibility of using solar power in all cars? Do you think it's the best alternative? What other fuels do you think can be used?

LP: Again, we have to reduce carbon emissions down to zero wherever we can. There is an attitude to wait until someone comes up with a car that is as fast and drives as long, but for less money, than today's petrol cars. This waiting could be fatal. And todays solutions from the car industries reduce the carbon emission by 25 %, while the number of cars worldwide goes up by 25 % about every 5 years. We do not need quarter-hearted solutions. The only car which is reducing carbon emission down to 0 is the electric car, which takes its power from solar cells, water turbines or wind farms. This technology exists, we could build such a car for even less than 10000 Dollar. It is the ideal car for commuting, going to see your friends, go for shopping and to work. Most emissions are produced on short distances. An average car in Europe makes 35 km a day. My solar car makes 200, with more batteries it could make even twice as much. I can even drive it around the world. Why we can not even buy it??

GP: Most people who want to make a difference and help the environment won't be able to do what you're doing. What are the most important things people can do to help fight climate change?

LP: If you do something to fight climate change, for example you install solar cells on your rooftop, you feel much better. I hear so many people saying that they just feel much better because they have done something great, they were happy for not being part of a problem any more. And they willl be able to tell their children and grand children that they were pioneers. But finally, what exactly you can do depends on your own possibilities, there are so many things you can do: Ride a bike. Take the bus or the train. Spend a holiday on the local beach rather than on the beach on the other side of the world. It is so simple. And everybody must contribute. But in a team, you are always stronger than alone. So form groups, make weekly meetings, search for people who you know could be interested to helping you. That's how solartaxi started.

GP: Where are you most looking forward to going to next?

Every country is very special and it's a big honour for me that I can visit these different countries and I am welcome everywhere. In Australia I am looking forward very much to getting to the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne, and I am looking forward to the next Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, where I will probably end my tour. If not some new ideas come up and I will continue to drive it in even more countries and further and further.


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