This is a Fully Solar Powered Electric VW Bus


Hi, my name is Brett Phelan and this is
my 1973 solar electric VW Bus. About 12 years ago I built a
solar-powered golf cart. It was an absolutely amazing
vehicle and I always imagined wow if I just could build a large one that could
go on the highway. Getting the bus was quite interesting they still want four or five thousand dollars for these older buses even with bad motors in them. The solar power was just two hours a night after work chop saw cutting aluminum
drilling until finally I was able to mount the cam and hinge them and then
there’s actuators that needed to be wired up so that it could tip up. So the
idea of having a charging station so to speak right with the vehicle
obviously allows you to go far beyond where you would need to possibly use a
charging station. So you can really get out into nature and and stay there
because you have plenty of power to keep all your life support systems
going while you’re out there. So it really just gives you the ability to get out beyond civilization a little bit and enjoy nature. So as you notice we can tip up our solar
panels and really get the most out of the sun. There is a canvas that attaches
to this velcro right here so it starts there and it goes around, has a window in
the back, and you access it from the bottom there’s a little ladder that you
put in there. Me, my wife, and my two kids will sleep up there with plenty of room
to spare. You can stand up so if you wanted to play some music off the back
or have a little dinette set to hang out and have a coffee it’s totally possible
and it’s really nice. It puts you up above your campsite or the creek or whatever
you’re parked next to. So if you notice up here you’ll see a little piece of
wood there that has some holes in it. Those are actually fans and each panel
has to have its own little controller. One of the challenges with doing a
vehicle like this is there’s just not a lot of components available to
accomplish this so we have to get kind of creative and each panel gets this
voltage of 32 volts maximum power kicked up to about 55. So otherwise, this panel
even if I series all those panels it only ends up being about 120 volts and I
need at least 200 to charge 144 volt battery banks so those little controller
step up the voltage on each panel to about 50 volts and then when I combine
them in series I get 200. There’s still probably 10% of the energy is lost in
heat and such with these small controllers so being able to design a
controller, and we are in the middle of designing one, will give me just all the
more power. So if you take a look at the dash there you’ll see a gauge which
represents the voltage on each battery so if you take the voltage of your total
battery bank you don’t know what’s happening in between and sometimes the
battery can drop really low. We can’t push a battery further than it wants to
go so when we see that one battery start dropping down to the ten nine volts we stop and do a little solar charging or plug in. In the center there
you can see that’s the the -2 is power coming in. When we’re in the full sun
we’ll pull up to 8 amps so that would be times 150 volts,
1200 watts of the system. So that ends up being 40 and 50 miles in one day
pulling out the sun. So let’s take a look at the electric motor. So there you can see
it’s a hundred pound motor so it replaces about a 250
gas guzzling oil spurting situation with this super easy little hundred pound
motor. Even the transmission is only a two hundred pounder so pretty much anything
on this vehicle is just really manageable to work on and deal with.
Where the gas tank used to be we have the motor controller, the chargers, and a
bunch of other little components like we need 12 volts to run all the normal
accessories on the van but the electric battery bank is a high voltage battery
bank so you need to step down that high voltage to run kind of the typical
accessories on the van. We have some pretty basic batteries in here they’re
just golf cart batteries essentially. There’s 12 of them. They’re all in series
so you just keep adding them up and you end up with a nominal 144 volts so you need higher voltages to really get the power out of these banks to run a heavy
vehicle like this. I made my own interconnects because I found after
studying lead acid batteries for a lot of years doing off-grid power that some
of the main issues with these batteries come from just having poorly connected
terminals and bad crimped connections so I made my own wires by smashing some
copper rod and making sure that each battery has a perfect torque connection
and and you really notice the difference. Each battery then can contribute evenly
and and much more efficiently. I’ll get about 80 amp hours per battery pulling
anywhere from 100 to 250 300 amps out of each battery and that gives me my
50-mile range. A lot of people like to talk watt hours so that would be
anywhere from 150 to 300 watt hours per mile. I also have an inverter which comes
off of this 144 volts and that gives me 2,000 watts to run my electric chainsaw
if I need it or larger things like heaters and air conditioning units and
things that require more power. There’s a lot of power here to do other things
besides drive the vehicle I mean driving the vehicle takes so much more power
than it does to run even an air conditioner so. One question I get a lot
is is this thing top-heavy? When you put the canvas up there you have this huge
sail however with a thousand pounds of lead ballast near the center of the
vehicle we haven’t really seen a problem. We came through some pretty high winds on our trip and even though it blew the canvas around a little bit,
the thing won’t budge. So I have a level two charger so if the solar is not
putting out what we need to be traveling then I can plug in. I can also plug in
this with a regular 110 cord anywhere I want that has an available
110, but the charging stations are typically two twenty thirty amp service
and that will charge this particular battery bank up in about two and a half
hours. One thing I’d like to mention is I just put this in a couple days ago it’s
a power steering unit so it’s an electric assist basically steering
column. As you can see and if I was to normally
normally turn this wheel it takes a little grunt but if I come over here and
put on my power steering now I can just turn it really easily. So this is a 1973.
It is a transporter which means it didn’t originally have any camping
package associated with it so that’s all been added. Mostly my wife Kira made the kitchen here and the fold-out tables and the floor. It really made the the bus
feel a lot like more like home. The sink has a little pump in it so we have a
dirty and a clean jug. It seems to serve us for a week or so. It’s pretty good, we
conserve on our water. So for cooking we have a small induction burner that
pretty much serves all of our needs. You’re just parked and you’re pulling
power off the sun it’s pretty negligible even what you’re what you’re pulling off
that burner. It ends up being just about the same power as the panels put in so
if you cook for an hour it doesn’t take too much out of your range. For
refrigeration we have a small Dometic refrigerator that is amazing it takes so
little power we don’t even notice it. I pretty much just leave it on all the
time. The seats are out of a Sprinter. They were actually brand new about four
thousand dollars so that’s something if you didn’t want to spend a whole lot on
here you might eliminate but they are so nice it’s like having two lazy boys in
the front and we were able to then get a custom seat built over the top of that
battery box. It was two years of work two hours three hours a night. Phase one was
to do it cheap because depending on who looks at the vehicle some people can’t
imagine only going 50 miles a day. Other people it’s like satisfies all of their
needs. But phase two, however, is kind of the spare no expense stage when
I’ll be putting lithium batteries in there to give me a couple hundred miles of range
and solar awnings which will be a very interesting mechanical feat to be able
to get enough power up on top to pull it out as awnings and then pull 100
miles or so off the sun each day. The message is Slow Down. The message is you know if you go forty and fifty miles an hour with a vehicle like this
your range goes up so dramatically you have everything you need with you so
there’s no reason to go fast. There’s nowhere to get to. It’s the ultimate
nature enjoyment vehicle. You could come into nature with totally low-impact
quiet transportation stay there power yourself up and move on and enjoy enjoy
all the wonderful spots in America or the world for that matter. Let’s slow
down. You’ll enjoy it more. The vehicle likes to be driven that way and you’ll
get way more performance that way as well. So it’s kind of naturally built
into the bus is the idea of relaxing and letting go and being healthy and happy.

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