The solar tuk tuk developed by students at Melbourne’s RMIT visited the northern NSW town of Byron Bay this week, after a two week long trek up the east coast on a mission to spread the message of clean transport.
As The Driven reported last month, the vehicle is a retro-fitted tuk tuk (the dirty, noisy, petrol-driven, two-stroke kind commonly seen on South East Asian city streets) has been developed by a team of students from the engineering and other faculties at the Melbourne university as part of a project to promote sustainable transport.
A few of the students began what will eventually be a 3,000km journey on November 24, 2018, and to date have travelled over 1,600km as part of the mission including up to Mt Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia.
It’s slow going – kitted out with solar panels, a secondhand Tesla battery and a 7kW motor, the “SolarTuk” as it is known was only given permission to travel on public roads on the condition it was limited to a 50km/hr top speed.
It has made for a “scenic journey”, says Hannah Sharp, who forms the logistics and communications part of the solar tuk tuk team.
Team leader Julian O’Shea, and photographer Mario Gonzalez, arrived with Sharp in Byron Bay yesterday morning first visiting a group of year 9 students at Byron Bay High School who showed great interest in the solar-powered vehicle.
After that, the tuk tuk was driven through town to Main Beach where Hannah shared how they’ve been travelling so far.
“On the flat we can get around 300-350km on a full charge, but on a hilly terrain … that changes the range quite a bit,” she says.
“We put up the panels when we stop – the wings come up on the side – and we can also charge from the panels when we’re driving, so that’s where we get most of the solar energy during the day.”
With the aim of charging overnight using only renewable energy, the team successfully reached out to the public with a request for beds at PV-powered homes, a move that has paid off.
“We’ve done pretty well, about 80% of the places we’ve stayed have been solar-powered or by renewable energy so we’re indirectly getting it from those sources,” says Sharp.
“We’ve also partnered with Diamond Energy who are a renewable energy retailer and they are covering that gap [by] sacrificing certificates so we can indirectly get all our power from renewable resources.”
While Byron Bay wasn’t initially on the SolarTuk’s itinerary, the decision to visit the northern NSW was made after a member of Zero Emissions Byron (ZEB), a not-for-profit company that shares a similar vision to the SolarTuk team contacted Sharp upon reading The Driven’s article last month.
It’s an apt destination: with a staunchly green community and even its own solar train, Byron Bay turned on the sun for the SolarTuk visit.
Board members Vicki Brooke, Christobel Munson, and founding member Chris Sanderson met up with the SolarTuk team at Main Beach, where Munson explained how she believes the mission can help to change the public’s perception of EVs.
“This is something light-hearted that can get the point across [about climate change] without it being a dreadful negative thing,” she says.
“It’s bringing people’s attention to the fact that that it is possible to have sustainable transport these days,” says Munson, adding that while not everyone can afford a $120,000 Tesla, there are cheaper models coming.
“Transport is a real challenge in our area, and EVs are unaffordable just yet but there are cars like the Ioniq on the horizon and very soon it will be easy for ordinary people top get their own EV and charge it with solar panels if they have them.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.