June 15th 2018 I arrived in Oregon (PDX), many told me I was crazy for what I was about to begin, I believed you for a second, at least until now when the picture became much clearer. I was on my way to meet Brett Belan and his family, complete strangers, I was about to begin building a van powered entirely by using the suns phot voltaic energy, all in a super short amount of time. In better words I was about achieve an almost impossible task with strangers in two months. This is about as close as I got to believing that I was crazy, they say hindsight is a bitch, in this it case it was not the case (spoiler alert). Looking back the only way I was ever going to be able to achieve something like this is to have made bold moves based off of a trust that is unexplainable, trusting that what I was doing was right and that, that energy can only lead me in the right direction. I don’t want to go into great detail about the previous two months because so much has happened I can’t begin to capture it all in one blog post. So I will summarise, in a time line that I have made below:
You see things were going great for a while there until the end when we realised that we were probably fucked and that this was not the most appropriate amount of time for such a project. None the less I am on a ferry with a van that is capable of being powered by the sun. So let me explain what that means to you because I know that this part is pretty confusing. I have a 2nd generation 2010 International E-Star, it is electric and has a stock standard 80kwh lithium ion phosphate battery pack (lots of power), it could drive around 120 miles as is. We built (mostly Brett and Kira Belan) a secondary 40kwh lithium cobalt battery pack (still lots of power). Then we installed an 8kw outback radian inverter which transforms 48 VDC energy from the 40 kwh secondary battery into 240 VAC (or less). This energy is drawn into a 40 amp 10kw (maximum output) juice box, electric vehicle charger. This is then plugged into the vehicles stock female J1772 charging port, an onboard charger then draws 6.4kw at about 28amps to charge the onboard 80kwh drivetrain battery from empty to full in 8-10hours. Whoa you say, and I agree. If any of that makes sense to you good for you, if it doesn’t don’t worry about it too much, just know that it works, or study electrical engineering for about 3 years or for 2 months intensively for 24hrs 7 days. One day I will have a schematic for everyone to see visually what the fuck is going on here. Next and probably most importantly Brett and Brett or Brett^2 along with any assistance from me Kira or Gabriel, (which wasn’t much unless it required lifting a heavy object or starring at something very confusingly for half an hour) built a huge 8000 watt (nominal) solar array that slides under a 2400 watt (nominal) constant array. It is designed to be folded for driving and opened when stopped and charging. It is used to charge our secondary 40 kwh 48 VDC battery pack which as explained above is turned into forward motion through a series of electrical engineering wizardry. We created an on board solar electric vehicle charging system. So far we have seen the system pulling up to 4kw of solar energy into our batteries. Which isn’t the most exciting number considering I’m about to rely on it to get me through some pretty serious and unforgiving country in Alaska. At that rate we are able to drive around 40 - 60 miles a day. But wait, we haven’t seen this system operate in optimal conditions yet. Our highest figure came in the final hours as we had just finished hooking all of the panels together in a mad dash for the finish line before the Belan’s had to get on a flight to attend a dear friend’s funeral. The air was smoky and the sun was definitely not at its highest point in the sky, it was quite hot, all of these factors are not optimal in regards to solar efficiency. So considering all of that, there is hope that when I get off this ferry in Haines, weather permitting I can pull closer to the 6-7kw required to charge to a full 100 miles of range. Basically I am heading up to Alaska with a big ? And a sense of fuck it I’m going for it.
Remember at the beginning of this blog when I wrote verbatim “many told me I was crazy for what I was about to begin, I believed you for a second, at least until now when the picture became much clearer” heading to Ashland Oregon to meet some strangers to build a machine that has never been built before isn’t crazy. This, what I’m about to do, is crazy. I’m anxious, excited, scared, tired, happy, elated and overwhelmed all at once. I’m on a ferry navigating one of the most incredibly insanely beautiful passages of water in the world and all I can think of is “you better eat up here Joel cause where you are going if shit goes wrong you’ll be fighting with the bears for dinner”. I am equipped with pancake mix for about 2 months, canned chicken, canned fish, canned chilli, ramen noodles (soy flavoured), 10 x 4 serving packets of mac and cheese, pasta, rice, cereal, protein powder, peanut butter, salsa and tortilla chips and some poweraid. I think I’ll be fine.... there’s always squirrels and salmon along with a thousand types of fresh greens growing around the area. So, let’s see what happens, I don’t know if this is gonna work for sure, as I’m writing this I have no cell service and I’m not even sure when I’ll get it again. So I don’t even know when you’ll read this. But if you are, wish me luck. If I haven’t updated you all on the other side, send someone looking for a big old blue van with tons of solar panels on it. But seriously I’ll be fine.
Finally I want to say a big thanks to everyone who helped get me here. From conversations about our existentialism to drilling aluminium enough for our lifetimes, you deserve so much and I wish I could do more for you all but for now I’m going to name you all: Gabriel, Clay, Caroline, Brett Rinehart, Nocturne the super husky, Arturo, Eli and most of all Brett, Kira, Lyric and Brook, before I found all of you, I was in a strange space, I didn’t know where I fit, a quote that means more to me now than ever is:
“Sometimes people don’t get you, they are not your people”
My answer to that is find your people and make impossible things possible. You are my people and I can’t begin to describe how delighted I am that you are all in my life right now. Let’s hang out sometime while not building a Solar Electric Campervan, or better yet drinking a beer in a Solar Electric Campervan.
That’s all from me for now, I’m planning on doing this way more regularly now that I have the headspace to do so.
P.S. Remember to follow along on the journey here and @routedelsol on IG and FB soon Youtube and Vimeo. Great things are about to happen.