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Sun up and street surf with the Solar Electric Scooter


May 10, 2013

The Solar Electric Scooter uses a PV panel as its riding platform

The Solar Electric Scooter uses a PV panel as its riding platform

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If you've ever thought that the rider platform of an electric scooter is just crying out for a solar panel, you're not alone. California renewable energy veterans Mike Donnell and Tony VanMeeteren have spent the last four years working on some PV-panel-packing, adult-sized, emission-free electric scooters called SES, and are now moving toward mass production.

Donnell and VanMeeteren have both been in the renewable energy industry since the early 1980s and, after being given an old scooter, they began designing a practical solar version.

"We started with a 24-volt system that was on the old scooter chain drive and bought all new parts and added a solar in order to charge it," VanMeeteren told Gizmag. "It worked fine. Now we had to make it cool and we needed to add range. We went with a hub motor and 36 volts."

The team was expanded to include an electrical engineer, to help integrate the most efficient PV panel possible. After that, it was time to build a prototype with the help of Killer Off Road in Simi Valley.

The result is a pretty cool-looking, emission-free short haul vehicle called the Solar Electric Scooter. Riders stand on a deck that's actually a 13.5 by 32 inch (34 x 81 cm), 37-watt/0.88 amp PV panel sporting 4-mm thick glass that's been laminated and made skid-resistant. According to VanMeeteren, the riding platform has been "designed to hold up to 350 lb (159 kg), however we suggest a limit of 250 lb."

There are three ways to top up the scooter's 36 V/15 Ah Li-ion battery pack. The first, and perhaps easiest, is just to kick the stand and park it in bright sunlight. Every hour left in the baking sun gives the battery enough juice for about a mile of travel. The SES also has a built-in 4-ft (1.2-m) pull-out charging cord connected to the included 2-amp charger that can be plugged into any standard power outlet. Lastly, the battery pack can be removed and hooked up to a 3-amp external charger. When the status light shows green (full), the battery offers a range of up to 20 miles (32 km) per charge, depending on rider style.

The 350-watt brushless hub motor is reported capable of taking the e-scooter from a standing start to its top speed of 15 mph (24 km/h) in just 3.7 seconds, which will probably make you appreciate the inclusion of disc braking front and rear. The 12.5 x 2.5-inch stainless steel rim at the front, and 10 x 2-inch at the back, are home to pneumatic tires. There's also safety lighting front and rear, and the goose-neck handlebars collapse down and lock for ease of storage or transport.

To get the scooter into the hands of consumers, Donnell and VanMeeteren have launched on the When You Wish fundraising platform. Lower pledge levels are rewarded with solar-powered torches or lunch with the developers combined with a test drive of the SES, but to get your hands on a production SES in a choice of five different colors, you'll need to stump up US$1,500 for one of the first 50. The next 50 are offered at $1,700, and then the pledge level rises to $1,900 (which is still $200 less than the proposed retail price).

The developers say that the SES is street legal (though you're advised to check local regulations before diving in), and is not really designed for use in hilly areas. Production versions will benefit from superior lighting, a new throttle/hand grip design, improved inner tube and stem to help guard against flats, and better handlebars. Though a cable or chain and lock are the usual methods of securing the SES, the designers told us that a tracking device may be added to help in the event of theft.

For every scooter purchased through the When You Wish site, $50 will be donated by team SES to charities like Friends of the Earth and Erase Poverty. A $100,000 funding target has been set, and everyone who pledges at an appropriate level will receive a Solar Electric Scooter at the close of the campaign on May 22, even if the funding goal is not reached.

You can see the SES in action in the promo video below.

Sources: SES, When You Wish

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Good idea, looks like fun and decent range for what it is. I think they should add like a socket to charge their cellphones or anything USB, probably wouldnt cost much to add on and its the kinda thing that would make this more useful, letting the battery pack work for more then just powering the motor.


I don't like the standing on the solar collector even with the additional glass on top it is still bound to get dirtier like that. I think having it hinged so that it folds up against the steering column would be the better solution.


So you can't charge it while riding? Poor idea.


Nope, I agree with Dr.Smart. Pretty pointless to have the power harvesting device permanently in shadow. I built a recumbent tricycle system with its own photovoltaic charging system, but that sits behind my head, and the ammeter shows it charging as I ride.

In my experience, they should have stuck with 24 volts. I searched the internet for a week trying to find a regulator which would handle 36 volts, but unsuccessfully. Initially I had my trike solar charged, but without a regulator, if I didn't ride it regularly (or forgot to disconnect the solar panel), the battery boiled dry. But at 24 volts, there were regulators galore. Now I can safely leave my vehicle in the sun for days.

The motor is 350 watts, the panel nominally generates 37 watts - in reality closer to 20 watts. Any recharge, even at 37 watts is going to be fairly minimal.

This is a one ride wonder. You go for a ride, the battery gets discharged and you have to walk home pushing to have it recharge, or you "scoot" it home, don't get a charge and plug it in to the wall. And that's probably the last time you'll ride it.

Joe Blake

re; Joe Blake

Just because you could not find a 36v regulator does not mean that they can not build one. The scooter has a built in 2-amp charger with a four foot cord. Anybody who takes it for ride beyond what the batteries and solar collector can be expected to deliver deserve what they get.


I'm always amused by the comments on articles such as these, so negative and sceptical. Do you all really think that these people who are clearly intelligent would not have thought about alternatives to placing the solar panels on the deck? If you want a scooter form factor with scooter wind resistance it's the logical place to put it. And for the amount of energy a solar panel can produce compared to the amount of energy it takes to move the scooter about the effects of having the panel in the shadow of the user while being ridden would be negligible.

Joe Blake, 1. good idea putting the solar panel behind you, but this is a scooter not a tricycle - where the hell else are you going to put it that is both convenient for a user and robust in design?. 2. This is a commercial product not a home DIY project, so 24V vs 36V doesn't really matter at all, I'm not sure why you would bring that up.

And slowburn, that would be terrible for aerodynamics and I am sure that the tradeoff for a bit of dirt or some scuff marks on the panel would not be worth it.

Shaun Young

Designed mainly for sunny Californian-type climes, I suspect! That said, add a (padded) seat post with shopping pannier below at the rear and I would buy one tomorrow! I don't see indicators or brake lights though, some states/cities would not allow it on sidewalks, so on-road legality might be compromised.

The Skud

I notice that all shots and the video are on level ground. How does it do on hills, asks the man who lives in hilly country.


Thank you all for your comments, that means you're paying attention! Arahant: We have a USB PORT AND POSSIBILITY FOR 19 Volt laptop ports also. Slowburn: I have been in the solar industry for thirty years, Solar Alternatives Energy Inc. has installed mainly PV since 2002 the beauty of having the solar panel so close is that it is easy to wipe clean. Climbing up on rooftops to clean arrays is not really cost effective unless the consumer performs this cleaning them self. Solar systems generally lose 15% efficiency over a year if not cleaned. We suggest our riders wipe down the panel after each ride if they notice they are dirty. We have invested countless hours in the design of the SES and the platform idea was the most efficient way. We have additional panels to hang off handlebars for added charge time. We invite all comments as we have built this business on an open platform inviting new ideas and additions to he SES. We have a plan for fold out panels in the future and have patented that way. one step at a time. We want this SES to roll out smoothly then we can make upgraded versions already in the works.

Solartonyv Solarelectricscooters

In reply to Mr.Blake's comment. We had many versions of the motor battery combo. 24 volt SLA 15 AH batteries with chain driven Brushed 500 to 1000 watt motors. These combos ended up being much to heavy and the current drain from the brushed motors did not allow for the range we were after, so we stepped up to 36 volt with the same combo ,however, the weight was still an issue and once again the draw on the batteries was just to limiting. Finally we went with The brushless hub motors we are very happy with today. They are much more efficient and do not drain the batteries so fast so we we blessed with our range. The Solar charge controller for the now Lithium Ion batteries was a challenge but we after originally building our own 36 volt charge controller went with a fantastic supplier of the 36 volt version. The charge ratio varies, We are in the Los Angeles area and 1000Wm/2 is pretty standard as we have one of the best climates and have an average of 1500 watts per meter squared from the sun. Allowing us to average on sunny days one mile charge from one full hour of sunlight. This normally happens while the scooter sits in the sun while the user is in school or work in an unshaded area. The best part is we have an added on board charger as seen in the pictures and you can juice up with any standard 120 volt outlet. Better yet the battery is removable so you can take it with you on those days or nights in order to charge indoors with the included external charger.This feature also renders the scooter unrideable with no battery source, once you take it with you. We still suggest locking it up. We welcome all comments and will do our best to accommodate the readers accordingly.

Solartonyv Solartonyv

It could use a seat.


If accommodation of the readers is your aim, then please consider that that in many places powered vehicles with more than 250 watts require both the vehicle and the rider to have a license. I find this very sensible because due to the lack of sensible city planning, where I live (Perth Western Australia) there is a distinct lack of separate paths for bicycles and other sorts of human powered transport, and it is not uncommon for there to be a mix of vehicles and pedestrians. So if one is unable to legally use the scooter on the road, or safely on dual use paths, then it's a vain hope to consider this a commercially viable proposition.

With the 24v versus 36v question, I wouldn't consider purchasing something like this which is entirely reliant upon original manufacturers equipment. It's all very well saying you went with a fantastic supplier of 36 volt parts, but that's no good to somebody living in another country. For my home brewed trike, I've got at least three sources of 12 and 24 volt parts within a 25 km radius, so if something does break, replacing it is not a problem. The reason I was searching for a 36v regulator was that a friend had a commercially purchased electric assist bicycle (36v), and inspired by my own tinkering, she wanted to mount some PV panels to increase her range. But there was no 36v regulator to be found.

For the short distances which seem to be envisioned for this scooter, I think it would be cheaper and more efficient to buy a fold up bicycle.

@ slowburn, to simply say "build one" ie 36 volt regulator is a bit mean-spirited. I could build one, but that's only because in 1965 I was apprenticed as a radio mechanic in the Army. To expect an average Joe or Josephine who just wants to zip up the street to post a letter to build one is unrealistic. Sometimes reality has a way of waking us up from our dreams.

Joe Blake

all of our parts are in stock and readily available. The 36 volt Solar charge controller/ regulator was first designed by us as we could not find a reliable supplier in the beginning, However we did find I very reliable supplier for the 36 V regulator. Our friends here in the states told us their were non available. We were relieved when we were able to find on off the shelf., ready to buy. I would not expect anyone to try to build one on their own , if I came off that way m appoligise. Thank you for your comments.


We have our scooters ready for purchase and to be shipped our mid July. www.solarelectricscootersinc.com

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