Solar car halts in Palo Alto

Creator of record-setting sun-powered vehicle runs out of sun and money, but plans to head on to Santa Cruz and Los Angeles

A modern-day solar gypsy, Marcelo da Luz, took a Palo Alto break this week waiting for more sun and hoping for more money to continue a record-breaking trek that has cost him thousands of dollars, a girlfriend and worry enough to drain his personal batteries if not his vehicle's.

But it's gained him recognition and a trip of a lifetime as he has wended his way from Buffalo, N.Y., to the Arctic Circle and down the Pacific Coast.

Luz told the Weekly Thursday he was gearing up to head out of Palo Alto Thursday afternoon, where he has been staying at the home of "a friend of a friend of a friend" on Maddux Drive in southeast Palo Alto -- where his sleek, shiny vehicle has attracted neighborhood attention.

Luz, 40, is a Brazilian native who moved to Ontario, Canada, 19 years ago and who, until two years ago, was an airline attendant for Air Canada. That's when his solar obsession hit. He calls his car "XOF1," which stands for "the Power of One."

He said his original plan was to return from the Arctic Circle to Buffalo, after setting a distance record. His route from Buffalo took him through Chicago, Winnipeg, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Edmonton and up to Whitehorse and through the remote Yukon over the Arctic Circle to Inuvik, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. Along the way, he met a wolf he tried to pet.

But his return route was diverted when he was contacted by a John White of Weenachee, Wash., a solar advocate, who invited him to come to his town. So Luz headed there instead of back to Buffalo.

His vehicle, which looks as if it just landed from a distant planet, floats along on three wheels at up to 75 miles per hour on a sunny day, and he once logged just under 300 miles in one day. It weighs less than 500 pounds. To drive it, he lies on his back and lowers the solar-paneled roof over him.

He said he first envisioned creating a solar car in 1987 when he still lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The obsession grew until he had to do it. After failing to get sponsorship money, he refinanced his house in Ontario and figures he has spent about $500,000 on the car.

He said it's taken two years to plan it, 2 1/2 years to build it and two years to battle with government officials for the right to drive it on public roads.

He lost a girlfriend and was laid off from his airline job in part because he spent so much time and attention on his car, he said.

Now he's unfettered, and low on funds, never having found significant financial backing or a sponsor, although many have helped him along the way.

The bright side is he doesn't worry about high gas prices, only the clouds behind that silver lining. He said he really needs a crew and support team to keep on rolling.

Luz said his vision is as bright as ever: "We are all hypocrites," he said of people who sit around waiting for "governments to save the planet." He said people need "to start doing it ourselves."

His shiny saucer-car, the Power of One, is his way of doing that, he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:23 am

Gee, thanks for publishing this story after he's gone. I would have enjoyed viewing this vehicle, maybe tossing the guy a few bucks!

Like this comment
Posted by Solar car enthusiast
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:52 am

You can still give a donation to this amazing man! Please view his web site, and click on "adopt a km." Any amount, even small ones add up. It will be very much appreciated! Thanks for your interest, if it was up to Marcelo, he would receive publicity immediately in every town he visits. Unfortunately, he must rely on the kindness of strangers. Thank you for publishing his story, Palo Alto News!

Like this comment
Posted by Solar Bozo
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2009 at 9:41 am

It is so difficult for Marcelo to do advance publicity about where he is going. He does rely on the kindness of strangers for everything, including driving his support vehicle and even getting the word out. I found out he was coming to Sacramento awhile back, and put the word out to the press and friends, and it got things going for him. He ended up with some OK reporting, a place to stay, and some new friends.

Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm

A solar gypsy how quaint, some what akin to the 1890's snake oil salesman. If this solar stuff worked then why is he not driving in a vehicle that meets federal crash safety standards.

When you hug a tree goofs take off your tin hat and deal with the reality of the world then and only then I might just listen.

Like this comment
Posted by bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2009 at 11:10 am

A solar car is a joke on people who think this is at all practical. It's a fun idea, but how many passengers does it seat, how fast does it go, how crash resistant is it, radio, a/c, spare tire, range, etc?

The US is in a real jam, and if we do not do something intelligent about it we are going to see the lights go out and martial law take effect. We have just begun to see hard times if we do not do something about this problem soon, and something real.

Wind and solar produce such a small amount of energy that even if we double capacity every year it would take many years to meet current energy demand let alone projected demand ... not to mention the reduction of oil for cars switch to electricity - and then were we to be able to produce enough energy from wind and solar there is no indication that we know how to build this "smart grid" to reliably distribute that energy.

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