It is the dream of many an environmentalist to live disconnected from the grid. There is a certain practicality to it, as you are effectively immune to infrastructural problems that must be handled by someone other than yourself. Unfortunately, this is essentially impossible if you want to maintain a basic standard of living which includes running water and communication with the outside world.
There is, however, an area in which emerging technologies allow further self-reliance: power generation. The most obvious and available method of producing your own energy is through photovoltaic cells. For the car lovers among us, the following question has undoubtable crept in to their minds: Can I power my vehicle using only the sun?
In the past, car makers have dabbled in this thought experiment; the Toyota Prius has been offered with a solar panel on its roof to provide electricity for accessories. An even more clichéd hippy-mobile would therefore have to be a Volkswagen Bus powered completed by the sun. It turns out this dream has been made reality by a man by the name of Brett Belan.
The 1973 VW Bus has a large panel mounted onto linear actuators which angle it upwards to maximize sun exposure. It can currently drive only 50 miles without needing to stop, but Brett hopes to improve this range by switching from traditional lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion. Either way, 50 miles isn’t bad considering the bus is completely self-reliant. Brett also wired the vehicle to have traditional charging capabilities in the case of a cloudy day.
This bus represents many of the challenges faced by proponents of more self-reliant vehicles: less than stellar driving range, questionable aesthetics, and a lack of performance due to all the added weight and reduced aerodynamics. It is, however, a noble pursuit, as the need for greener transportation remains at the forefront of our environment crisis.