11/01/2011 23:50

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan praises vehicle inventor Louis Palmer as global educator for ‘better life.’
Talkbacks (3)

A blue capsule of a car hitched by trailer to solar panels rolled through the Tel Aviv garden courtyard of the Council for a Beautiful Israel on Tuesday afternoon, with Swiss “solartaxi” inventor Louis Palmer and Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan inside.

“You brought the sun back Israel, but we want rain,” Erdan said to Palmer, laughing, as they stepped inside the vehicle.

Palmer’s solartaxi, which has traveled 60,000 km. in 40 countries since its launch in 2007, made its virgin visit to Israel this week as part of its “Solar Journey” campaign, produced by the Council for a Beautiful Israel and the country’s EcoCinema Association.

EcoCinema will screen a documentary of Palmer’s journey at its film festival next week.

The solar car, Palmer explained in a press conference following the drive, was a vision of his as an 11-year-old child in 1982, a dream that he eventually decided to realize in 2003, while working as a teacher.

“I thought that when I grow up I want to travel around the world,” Palmer said. “But our teacher told us if you use petrol you will be part of the problem.”

Amazed over 20 years later that the vehicle still did not exist commercially, he decided to take on the effort himself.

“I didn’t have a clue how to build a car. I have a Swiss bank account of course, but it didn’t mean anything,” he said, noting, that car developers were demanding 4 million euros to do the job, while he, as a teacher, only had about 4,000. Initially heading to his hometown University of Lucerne, Palmer presented an intricate design of a car with two wheels in the front and one in the back that would “look like a Lamborghini.”

He eventually attracted 200 people and many sponsors to help him in his efforts.

And in July 2007, he took off from Lucerne, in a fully functioning solar vehicle.

“I didn’t even know where to go exactly,” he said.

But that journey took him east through Germany, down to Turkey, Syria and even Saudi Arabia – where King Abdullah granted him a rare visa – and then by boat to India, to a UN climate conference in Bali, throughout the US and back home to Europe again.

“People all over the world helped me,” he said. “I call it a solartaxi because I’ve had more than 1,000 people driving with me.” And next to him.

In both Syria – where he had his first accident – and Saudi Arabia, he was escorted by armed police vehicles, he said.

New York, home to the United Nations, meanwhile gave Palmer the opportunity to drive Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon to work one morning.

While Palmer’s official world tour ended over two years ago, he has continued to participate in conferences and projects since, but Israel is the car’s first stop since the end of the tour and 40th country ever, made possible by Tsur Mishal of EcoCinema Israel.

“What we have to do is to change the minds of the people,” Palmer said. “If you can have a car going around without petrol around the world, then this car is good enough to go to work, to go to the supermarket.”

Pointing to a tiny 240- by-240 km. square, the size of Switzerland, on a map of the Sahara Desert, Palmer stressed to the audience that it would only take the amount of solar panels fitting in that space to power the entire world.

“In Israel, we used to say that a good teacher is a teacher for life, so you are also a teacher and you are educating everyone how to achieve a better life than we have today,” Erdan told Palmer at the press conference.

Turning back to the afternoon drive they had just taken together, which Erdan remarked was “so quiet,” the minister asked Palmer why he thought global investments on solar vehicles simply aren’t occurring.

Palmer responded, “We have to put money down as the Chinese are doing.

“I think the industry is still hesitating for different reasons – not because the car is not good,” Palmer told The Jerusalem Post following the event. “I just know there is no reason for them not to.”

Continuing to praise China for its developments in the solar industry, he added that the East Asian country will probably end up being the first to mass produce a solar vehicle.

“If there is one country in the world that is not talking, but investing, it’s China,” he said.

But Palmer had high hopes for Israel as a solar nation, which he said has 35 percent more sunshine than his native Switzerland.

“You have so much of the sunshine – it would be so easy and so great to use this solar power,” he told the audience.

“I’m here to show that we have the solutions.”