Iconic Old Volkswagen Bus Gets Solar Power

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Originally published on EV Obsession.

Solar-powered cars are all over the place theses days… but I’m talking about indirectly solar-powered cars, or, at the least, electric cars that use solar-powered EV chargers. Directly solar-powered are basically limited to very specialized car races (+ this Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept). But that’s not to say there aren’t some out there.

The CTO of healthcare IT company Vecna Technologies, Daniel Theobald, has reportedly converted an iconic 1966 Volkswagen buses into a completely solar-powered vehicle. The solar panel bolted to the top of the Volkswagen bus looks like something the driver is transporting, but it apparently works nonetheless. Daniel and Vecna coworkers reportedly sized it right, too, as it reportedly produces enough electricity for the 1966 bus that it never needs to plug into a socket of EV charging station.

Image by Daniel Theobald
Image by Daniel Theobald
Image by Daniel Theobald

It would be cool to see Volkswagen turn a new version this hippie bus into a solar-powered electric vehicle, wouldn’t it? Green Car Reports indicates that something similar (if not fully solar powered) may be in the works. “The company has shown multiple concepts, and board member Heinz-Jakob Neusser said earlier this year that engineers were working on an all-electric bus successor.” Hmm, we’ll see. But seriously, if Volkswagen wants to win back the hearts of the environmentally minded and those nostalgic for the 1960s and 70s (which is a lot of people), I think Volkswagen would be wise to go down this route.


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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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20 thoughts on “Iconic Old Volkswagen Bus Gets Solar Power

  • Are there any production cars, trucks etc that use solar for part of the electricity they use besides the small solar panel on the Nissan leafs?
    What would be the electricity production if the Tesla’s would use embedded solar cells in their glass roofs?
    Having some solar cells on a car, truck etc could keep a battery warm in the winter and maybe the AC on low in summer?

  • Zero technical details? Whatt kind of solar cell? How many batteries? How big an electric motor. range, speed, smell, anything?

    I’m positive that the rear overhang of that panel is illegal.

    It isn’t clear if this is driven anyplace but solar-powered car events.

    You could have simply tweeted, “Oh goody! A solar-powered microbus!”

    • Hey Fuzzman, here are some technical details regarding what was used. Daniel is a good friend of mine.

      • Elmo motor controller
      • Moog brushless motor
      • Solbian solar-electric modules (10, 130-watt modules on the bus; 20, 100-watt modules on trailer)
      • Genasun solar controllers
      • Manzanita Micro battery charger
      • Boston Power’s Swing 5300 lithium-ion batteries

      The Bus can go up to 74 mph, but that wastes more energy than taking a slower, flatter route. Without sun, the bus’ range is about 35 miles.

      Owner of the Bus drives this to and from work, and picks his kids up from school in it. Pretty practical for driving in Cambridge. The bus was built to comply with local laws, so the overhang is not illegal.

      • Is there some Facebook or Twitter where I can follow that project?

      • It can’t be legal. The cell overhang is a hazard and will decapitate a truck driver if he gets too close.

        Not that it will ever go fast enough, but there are big aerodynamic problems as well. Prepare for take off.

      • I have no reason to doubt that image is of an electric vehicle and maybe those panels could be used to help replenish the battery when parked but there is no way that vehicle as shown could drive at 50mph without the panels at the front peeling back (frankly I’d expect that to happen at 20mph or below). Why don’t you ask your friend if the vehicle is intended to be driven with those panels deployed as shown.

  • Why hasn’t a solar covered roof become standard on delivery trucks in the southwest? Use electric A/C and a belted motor like the Buick Lucerne.

    • It’s okay for an empty VW bus. Delivery vehicles require more power.

      • A KW of solar on the roof of a truck would run the a/c all day, and, allow start -stop so the engine is off unless moving. It would save at least a gallon of fuel a day.

  • It’s interesting and cool in a funky sort of way. I’m glad someone invested the time, money and work to make it. But I’m not betting on a production version of something like this from VW. Part of the reason a vintage ’66 Bus works in this application is that it’s super light in weight . . . well under a ton. A new VW Microbus – one that might not kill all the occupants in a crash – probably weighs twice as much. Imagine the size of the take-it-with-you PV panel array you’ll need for that.

    Solar PV car ports with battery storage probably makes more sense at the end of the day if we want a lot of us to be “driving on sunshine.” in modern/safe roadworthy vehicles.

    • From a practical standpoint, Tesla’s solar supercharging stations seem like a great way to get there, but I can’t help but wonder if First Solar couldn’t help somebody put together some thin film roof pannels that don’t really add much weight, but if you want to out do this VW, might want to figure out how to build a computerised tracker for the roof for when it’s sitting.

      • RVs already have self-leveling jacks. Just mount the panels and track with the van…. ;o)

  • If they build it, we will come

  • As ridiculous as this bus looks it’s really practical. However to really make it work the Cruiser Class at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge encourages entrants into that class to build vehicles capable of carrying at least 2 people. Last years winner carried 4 passengers most of the race. It can completely charge in about 10 to 12 hours of bright sunlight & has 500 miles of range. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2767806/Meet-Stella-solar-powered-car-drives-500-miles-SINGLE-charge-warns-traffic-lights-change.html This years entrant for the same team has even longer range. These cars have to be plugged in to give back to the grid as they have a 200 miles a day of excess range.

  • too cool. It seems like hanging a few on each side and one in front and back could help

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