"Solar house on wheels" completes epic European road trip
Last month, students from the Solar Team at TU Eindhoven announced plans to roll from the Netherlands to southern Spain in a solar-powered campervan. After a shaky start, the Stella Vita arrived in Tarifa on Friday afternoon.
After spending a year and a half designing, building and tweaking the Stella Vita, the 22-member Solar Team Eindhoven was to set off on a 3,000-km road trip on public roads from the university city on September 19. The fitted-out campervan successfully passed inspection for road worthiness and its licence plate was attached, but the students then discovered a problem with the drivetrain.
A potential solution was quickly found, but there was no time to test it. Deciding that it wasn't safe to attempt a drive along public roads using an untested drivetrain, the team opted to trailer the vehicle for the first few stages of its journey. Not a good start.
The first stay-over was in Brussels, after which the vehicle joined other solar-powered vehicles for a sustainability promotion opportunity at the Residence of the Dutch Embassy – the Lightyear One, the Sion family car from Sono Motors, and the SunRider delivery bike.
When the convoy reached its next stop of Paris in France, the team set about implementing the powertrain fix to get the Stella Vita moving under its own power. After testing on a nearby circuit, the vehicle's tires got some public road action on its way to a visit to Renault's design center.
More public road testing came after the convoy arrived at a posh campsite near Le Mans, when the Stella Vita was driven from Château de Chanteloup to the center of Le Mans itself. But it wasn't until the vehicle underwent some waterproofing at Île de Ré that the real road trip began. Next stop Bordeaux, and then on to Spain – going from "green forests to the beige desert."
Trouble hit the tour again on the way from Toledo to Córdoba, and again the vehicle was trailered for part of the journey for safety reasons. And on Friday October 15, the Stella Vita and the rest of the Solar Team Eindhoven arrived in Spain's southern-most city, Tarifa, to complete the 3,000-km (1,864-mile) demonstration tour – though thanks to those technical issues and unkind weather, the vehicle itself clocked up almost 2,000 km.
Perhaps more important than the journey itself, the Stella Vita team not only made quite an impression on politicians, automotive industry players, other students and the public along the way, but the road trip also gave the students a chance to promote clean transport present and future.
"We are five to 10 years ahead of the industry to show what is technologically possible," said Kjell Revenberg, team manager. "During our trip, we tried to inspire as many people and companies in Europe as possible."
Built for two, the four-door camper features an electrically raised curved PV-packed roof that allows occupants to stand inside when at camp without having to crouch. When raised, extra solar panels slide out to double the surface area available for sunbathing, and topping up the vehicle's 60-kWh Li-ion battery bank. Range per charge on a sunny day is reckoned to be up to 730 km (453.6 miles), without needing to stop off at a public charging station.
Top speed is 120 km/h (74.5 mph), the droplet shape of the vehicle allows it to slip down roads with minimum air resistance, and it's constructed from lightweight materials that see it tip the scales at just 1,700 kg (~3,750 lb).
Opening up the French-style doors at the side reveals a relatively roomy interior with a small kitchen block, raised sleeping area, bench sofa and stowable dining table, shower unit, toilet and storage. An infotainment display in the cabin keeps the driver informed on energy consumption.
As with other creations from Solar Team Eindhoven, the Stella Vita is a future technology design study that showcases possibilities in solar-powered transport for today and tomorrow.
Team members are now due to return to studies across disciplines like mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and industrial design.
"It will certainly take some getting used to, but it has been a wonderful time in which we all learned a lot," said Revenberg in a news release. "What will happen to Stella Vita? Well, the big dream is that there will be a company that actually takes our ideas to the next level. Has Elon Musk contacted us yet? Well, I’m expecting him to call at any moment!"
Source: Solar Team Eindhoven