Renewable Energy Car Featured at Solartaxi Luncheon

Swiss schoolteacher Louis Palmer shows off solar taxi at luncheon

Unnamed photo
Raquel Rodriguez

This solar taxi was developed by Louis Palmer, a 35-year-old Swiss schoolteacher who is on his way to becoming the first man to travel the world in a renewable energy car.

The first man to travel the world in a renewable energy car pulled up to Harvard’s Faculty Club in his futuristic brainchild.

Louis Palmer, a 35-year-old Swiss schoolteacher, was featured at the Solartaxi luncheon, an event designed to showcase his one-of-a-kind project.

He embarked on July 3, 2007 to spread the message of climate change and the existence of renewable energy solutions to eliminate cars’ emissions.

“I want to invite press, spread the word, and inspire people,” Palmer said. “The technology is here, the change must happen with people.”

The luncheon, hosted by the Swiss Consulate of Boston and Divna Y. Gogeva ’09, featured several prominent speakers including biological oceanography professor James J. McCarthy, Swiss Deputy Consul Emil J. Wyss, and Cambridge City Councillor Henrietta Davis.

They lauded Palmer’s journey as a paragon of the creativity, courage, and personal responsibility that each individual will have to shoulder in order to combat climate change.

“The debate about whether the Earth’s climate is changing and whether humans had a role in it is over,” McCarthy said. “Now the question is what are we going to do?”

“[Mr. Palmer] demonstrates the individual action and innovation that we need to address these problems,” he also said.

Palmer will end his tour at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland on Dec. 1, after traveling 300,000 miles and visiting upwards of 40 countries.

Over the course of his 18-month journey, the Solartaxi has accrued a considerable following, attracting the attention of media and luminaries from around the world. Palmer has chauffeured various guests, from Jay Leno in Los Angeles to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in Bali to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York.

“One day I get a call from the U.N. and they ask if I can show up at this address at 7:25 a.m.” Palmer relates. “I say, ‘No problem, of course I can come.’” The surprise passenger ended up being Ban.

The Solartaxi idea was born when Palmer first heard of global warming and the petroleum crisis as a 14-year-old. He dreamt of finding a way to travel and “enjoy the beauty of the world without polluting it.”

The dream came to be nearly 20 years later, when Palmer approached four Swiss universities that funded 200 students to work on the car. The students, aided by companies that donated various automobile parts, completed the project in three years.

The finished product is fully solar powered and emits no carbon dioxide. Half of the car’s energy is produced by solar panels on an attached trailer and is stored in two batteries. The car can go 55 mph for 200 miles on this alone.

For the other half of the power, the car must be connected to an electrical outlet. To offset the carbon footprint this creates, Palmer installed six square-meter panels at his home in Switzerland, which contribute to the power grid.

Through his innovative taxi service, Palmer hopes to promote clean energy usage and inspire people to take personal responsibility for their footprints.

“[Palmer] definitely has a lot of vision,” said Environmental Action Committee co-chair Karen A. McKinnon ’10. “[He is] getting people and investors who have never thought about pollution and climate change excited about solar cars.”

—Staff writer Natasha S. Whitney can be reached at nwhitney@fas.harvard.edu.