There was a sharp, stabbing pain in my back. My left shoulder was wedged in the midst of some sort of metal cage. I was too old, too fat, and too uncomfortable to do anything. I was driving a car powered by nothing but the sun.
The Zephyr is built by a team of largely undergraduate students at UC Berkeley, known as CalSol. With over 7,000 miles on its odometer already, it is fully road legal, and the winner of the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix. “Sun,” in this case, isn’t a reference to a vaguely orange drink marketed to youths. It refers to the car’s power source. The Zephyr, in fact, draws its juice entirely from the glowing orb 93 million miles above our heads.
A solar-powered car might sound absurd, but for a while there in the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed like the next big thing. After all, the sun isn’t going anywhere for a few billion years or so, and by the time it runs out we’ll all be dead. Meanwhile “no nukes” was getting so mainstream it was in Transformers/GI Joe crossover comics and it didn’t look like we had much else going on for clean power. Solar was a win-win for everyone, except our long-off descendants, who will probably just be cyborg worms or sentient trees anyway.
The idea sort of died out, mostly because your car needs to look like a UFO and the materials required tend to be prohibitively expensive just to get it to work.
But with electric cars making a comeback, and with the problem of powering them with something other than coal power plants needing solving, it seemed like a good idea to give a solar-powered car a spin around the block.
I was absolutely miserable. I loved it.