21st Century Silicon Conestoga Pauses In town

Over a century ago the great migration of settlers to the West took place. The most often chosen mode of transport was the Prairie Schooner or Covered Wagon.  The Conestoga wagon was the archetype for the covered wagons of the era. Drawn by a team of horses theses wagons could travel, on average, 24 Km per day. Until the railroad was in place this was the mainstay of families heading out to homestead the West.
Conestoga wagon on Oregon Trail - NARA - 286056 crop

On Oct 11 I visited with a man who has come west in a modern day covered wagon. It didn’t carry as much freight and instead of horses it had an electric motor but it’s speed of travel was  twice as fast as those covered wagons of a bygone era. And it was covered. Instead of a canvas tarp this wagon was covered in Solar Photovoltaic Panels.

Solar Electric Tricycle

Solar Electric Tricycle

The man taking this trip is Rick Small and he’s come all the way from Thunder Bay Ontario on his Solarized Electric Tricycle. And in all that 3000+ Kilometers of travel he has not had to pay anyone any money to ‘fuel’ his vehicle. It gets ALL of the energy it needs from Sunshine.

With that cost out of the way all he has to worry about is food and lodgings. At an average of 90km per day a long trip will have many meals and sleeps. Sometimes he gets a room at a motel but his camping setup means that is a choice he does not have to take. A tarp, some well placed insulation panels, a cushioned sleeping bag and he has a bedroom. Add a small electric heater and he’s cozy. And if the battery gets low over night the Sun will charge it up come daylight.

Since he started his trip on July 31 he’s learned things about how to make it better the next time.

  1. Part of the structural components in his vehicle are Steel. He estimates that using alternative materials he could shave 100 to 130 lbs of weight. This would improve speed and distance.
  2. He forgot the adapter that would allow him to charge the batteries from A/C in a house. Without that the electricity for his whole trip has been supplied by the solar panels. He says he has run the trike for 6300 Km this way.
  3. The solar panels make much more power when they face the Sun. Initially they were laid flat facing upwards. He got much more power when he changed them to tilt to the south and face the Sun. After he left the prairies he found that the roads in the mountains go north and south as well as east and west. That means with panels fixed to tilt to the left of the direction of travel you get Sun when going West but not as much when you have to travel in a North or South direction. He plans to devise a more robust tilting system to cope with that.
  4. Using more powerful panels would make a real difference. The panels he has now are rated for about 50 Watts. (actually 48 Watts). He has 6 so he’s getting 288 Watts of power delivered to his motor. If he’d used 60 Watt panels he’d have close to 360 Watts – virtually another panel’s worth of power. That would allow for speedier travel for longer distances.

He’s planning on making it to Victoria – hopefully before the snow flies. And next year he might do some touring around his beautiful new home province of British Columbia. And being off the grid maybe he’ll figure out how to modify it to serve as a solar ATV …

Here’s my interview with Rick Small.

And he mentioned he had a few videos on his YouTube Channel already.

 

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