In April 2005, Donald Dunklee decided to build a legal, affordable, and dependable solar-powered means of transportation by converting an electric scooter into a solar-powered vehicle.  Since then the scooter has traveled over 2000 miles, is still running on the original battery, and hasn’t been plugged into a factory charger.  Here we will learn how to build a scooter like Dunklee’s and why Dunklee decided to do it.

Dunklee’s bike is a basic stock EVT 4000E available from various suppliers in the U.S.  The rest of his system includes a Xantrex C-40 charge controller, four Atlantic Solar 30 watt, 16×25 inch solar panels, and mounting hardware available in most hardware stores.

The scooter first needs to be prepared for the installation of the structure on which the solar panels will be mounted.  The side panels of the body need to be removed so that holes through which the metal pipe supports will pass can be drilled on them.  The metal pipes have to be welded onto the frame of the bike’s body.  Once these have been welded, the panels should be able to be reinstalled easily if the holes are made accurately and cleanly.  Dunklee did all of this with special tools and had the pipes welded by a professional welder.

After this basic support system is installed, it needs to be modified so that the solar panels can be folded when the vehicle is on motion.  Install one and one-half inch angle stock aluminum on each of the vertical pipe.  These will provide a flat mount for the piano hinges that will be attached to the solar panels.  Install the hinges onto the stock aluminum.  These hinges will allow the panels to swing like doors and fold down when they’re not being used.

Once the hinges are installed, attach the solar panels onto the hinges.  Be careful when drilling or screwing into the panels so as not to damage the EVA plastic coatings.  Attach the solar panels onto the hinges such that the panels are facing inward when folded so that will be facing away from debris and other elements while the scooter is in motion.

With the panels mounted, the next step is to install a crossover/locking mechanism to lock and support the panels in both driving and charging positions.  This mechanism needs to be strong and easy to use.  If installed properly, the mechanism will help the panels withstand winds of up to 20 to 30 miles per hour when they are opened for charging.

Wiring the panels and the controller to the scooter’s batteries is the final and possibly most complicated step.  For a very detailed, step-by-step account of how Dunklee installed the mounts, the panels, and wired the panels to the batteries, read the account here.

Dunklee’s design is unique because it allows the solar panels to stay on the scooter at all times.  They fold down when the scooter is to be driven so that they don’t disrupt the aerodynamics and potentially slow it down.  Also, the weight of the system doesn’t seem to affect the performance of the scooter.  According to Dunklee, he is able to load packages as heavy as 55 lbs.

The cost of this system will vary, but the following is an estimate of the cost of the main components:

  • EVT 4000E: $3000
  • Xantrex C-40 Controller: $150
  • 30-watt solar panel: $100 – $400
  • Total: $3250 – $3550

The mounting hardware, tools for installing and possible professional service such as welding will add to this initial cost.

Despite the seemingly high cost, Dunklee still decided to build the scooter because he recognized the various benefits it would bring.  His family has been living off the grid for more than 20 years, and he wanted to extend the power of solar energy from his home to his means of transportation.  He recognized that the failing of the power grid is largely due to the rapidly decreasing world supply of fossil fuels.  Thus, using an electric scooter that was powered by sun would allow him to avoid being part of this problem and allow him to help the environment.

As of April of 2007, Dunklee’s scooter is still in very good condition, having endured all the different weather conditions of the seasons.  Dunklee hasn’t seen a change in the range the scooter is capable of covering.  He has even used the panels to help add power to his home during winter.