|Kim and her solar powered bus. Maybe the only one of its kind.|
Kim Audette, a fifth-generation Sierra Countian, became convinced a while back that her city needed public transportation—preferably low-cost and nonpolluting.
So she bought an electric bus from a company in California designed to run on batteries and be charged overnight.
But with some experimentation Kim changed that formula and went further. She added solar panels to the roof that she fabricated herself, visible in the photo, and then found she could do away with overnight charging.
"I can run all day and stay charged just from the sun," she says, and proves it by running a 12-hour schedule.
Still there is a trade-off. Her maximum speed is 45 mph, and that's pushing it. 20-25 mph is better and keeps her batteries strong.
Riding in this private, nonprofit bus that snakes through town is like riding in a golf cart in terms of speed. But then in a town that is only a few miles long it doesn't take long to go anywhere. And it is absolutely quiet. Kim pulled out the old air-conditioning system that drained juice and replaced it with a swamp cooler that depends on evaporating water to cool and works well in a dry desert climate.
But building a bus that runs all day on sunshine is only half the battle. Someone has to pay the driver and occasional upkeep expenses. She is working on that part of the equation by selling inside ads, charging fares, selling monthly passes and seeking support from merchants that will benefit from more customers coming to their doors.
If the solar bus (Nickname: Solar Buzz) catches on Kim hopes to add more buses. It's a way, she says, of connecting the community and making good use of one of New Mexico's abundant resources—sun.
Kim thinks we've had it all wrong in our thinking about electric transportation by expecting electric vehicles to do what fossil fuel vehicles do.
"Go slow and enjoy the ride," she says. "You're going to get there and without leaving even a tiny carbon footprint."