SmallSolarCars.org started in Malawi and is expanding to the US
The project beginning ...
This project has emerged from the work that the founder, Robert Van Buskirk (RVB) has been doing in Malawi, Africa since 2015.
Based on that experience, RVB wrote an article for LinkedIn in the January 2019 that noted the following about the coming global transition to electric vehicles in the 2020's:
"[W]hen lower-income consumers get access to electric vehicles at large scale... That is when the economics of demand response changes radically, and large numbers of consumers change the timing of when they charge their electric cars through behavior, not infrastructure. Low income consumers in developing countries already deal with and manage shortages of electricity and fuel every day. The inconvenience of supply shortages and outages is a daily fact of life when you have a very low income. So, when large numbers of low-income people get access to electric vehicles, they will time the charging of their vehicles so that they can get inexpensive solar electricity when it is available for cheap prices [or for free]."
And with that realization in 2019, RVB knew that he needed to start including solar electric vehicle experiments as part of the solar technology development and distribution work that he has been doing in Malawi, Africa.
Next, he visited small electric vehicle factories in China.
In June 2019, none of the electric vehicle manufacturers that RVB met thought that solar versions of their vehicles were practical. But theoretically they were--at least for rural African areas where sun is plentiful and gasoline is expensive.
So RVB committed to importing an electric cargo tricycle and seeing if it could be converted to solar power in Malawi.
Prototyping small solar cars in Malawi
In April 2020, the first electric cargo tricycles where ordered and put on a container to Malawi.
The global covid pandemic delayed further development until January 2021 when RVB and the Malawi partners tested the concept of connecting a solar electric cargo tricycle directly to solar panels and operating the vehicle. Later,capacitors were tried, and a little later the concept of adding Lithium Titanate batteries was developed.
By August 2021, the manufacturer of the solar electric tricycles was convinced to make a solar electric version of their cargo tricycle with 600W of solar panel on the roof and a 1 to 2 kW LTO battery.
In March 2022, an order of 12 vehicles was placed with the manufacturer: two to be shipped to the US for prototyping and testing there, and 10 to be sent to Malawi to develop the business model for distributing them to rural African villages.
Now the manufacturer has agreed to provide at least four different models of small solar cars, and we are leveraging that interest to see if we can develop a rapidly growing small solar car movement in both Africa and the US over the coming years.