Having been a “prepper” for more than 25 years, growing up in Florida where you had to be prepared for the inevitable annual hurricane, I have experienced many powerful storms, with the associated loss of power and the joy of waiting in line for gasoline. These experiences have cultivated a growing interest in solar power and how it relates to providing power in an emergency situation. Until recently photovoltaic (PV ) power solutions were out of reach and electric transportation was just a pipe dream. I always wished that I could have a motor vehicle that didn’t depend on the “grid” for its power, i.e. gas, diesel, bio-diesel, ethanol, etc. With recent advances in PV technology and electric vehicle technologies, that wish is now a reality.
In the mind of the “prepper”, PV power has always been a viable means of providing power to his or her retreat, dating back as far as the early 1970s. Early visionaries put largely inefficient banks of PV panels on their homes or barns to utilize the sun’s endless power. However, back then, the primary drawback was the enormous price tag and limited power that first generation PV panels produced. Until recently PV options have remained principally out of reach; however, with the advancements in solar technology and falling prices, as well as tremendous increase in quality and efficiency of PV panels, energy directly from the sun is now reliable and affordable for the average consumer.
With never-to-be-seen-again Federal Tax incentives, PVs are certainly worth a closer look. Just think of the uses for solar on the family farm/retreat or even the home in the suburbs. Power the well, produce all the power needed for the home and sell what you don’t need back to the grid for peak prices. The uses are virtually endless around the home but what about getting around on the homestead? Why not take advantage of the sun’s limitless power with the vehicle you drive?I’m not talking about those fancy space-age looking gizmos that you’ve seen gliding along on the Salt Flats someplace in Utah. We have developed something more functional and far more cost effective for the average person or family that wants an alternative means of transportation.
The new PV vehicles that are being produced by several manufacturers in the US are classified by the IRS as Low Speed Vehicles (LSV s), most of which can be used on any road, meaning, any public road that is posted 35 mph or under and allowed by local ordinances. These LSVs are quickly gaining national attention and are completely “Street Legal”. Likewise, there is an “off-road” or ATV classification of the LSV, which can be driven on or off-road while still qualifying as a “Street Legal” LSV. You must be a licensed driver to operate a LSV on any public roadway.
The uses for this type of vehicle on the retreat are endless, not to mention they are a lot of fun to drive. What’s even better is the “fill up” is free; all you have to do is park your LSV in the sun to let it recharge, free of charge. [JWR Adds: Keep in mind, however, that it would take more than two days of full sun to recharge a LSV’s batteries that have been deeply discharged. Also, like any other lead-acid deep cycle battery bank, you will need to buy a new set of batteries once every 4 to 7 years, because of inevitable sulfation.]
This year I had the opportunity to go to work for Long Drive Solar, LLC  a company that markets and sells street legal, PV electric hybrid, low speed vehicles (LSVs) for “on-road” and “off-road” use. As long as you have sunlight, you have reliable transportation.
The product line starts with vehicles that may appear similar to a standard golf cart all the way up to 24-seat trams. These vehicles are powered by strong 5.5 horsepower motors, use Curtis charge controllers and a powerful 48-volt battery bank with eight large 6 VDC batteries, (8-Trojan T-145s, producing 260 amp hours), self-adjusting drum brakes, turn signals, headlights, taillights, brake lights, horn, seat belts, and DOT -appoved windshields. The factory installed 210 or 230 watt solar panel is state-of-the-art, giving you higher performance, greater range, and substantially longer operating time between battery charges. Long Drive Solar has a wide range of on and off-road tires for just about any terrain or environment. Every vehicle has a 120 VAC plug-in charger, in case you ever need a conventional charge. However, under normal usage, you’ll find that the sun is all you need to keep your vehicle fully charged and ready to go.
Options include just about anything you can think of including AM/FM radio, CD player, wood grain trim, etc. But the one that I like the best is the 12 VDC to 120 VAC power inverter. This lets you have a 110 power outlet anywhere you can take the vehicle, as the solar panel acts as your own personal portable generator. Most models sold by Long Drive Solar have been certified by the IRS  and are GSA  approved.
So what’s the difference between a standard golf cart and a Low Speed Vehicle (LSV)? Golf carts are not street legal [in most jurisdictions], and most have a top speed of around 10 mph, whereas the LSVs (by law) must travel between 20 and 25 mph. The golf cart motor is normally just 3 horsepower, while our LSVs are 5.5 horsepower, and up. There are many additional difference, so when you go to buy your LSV, make sure you get the right vehicle for your money.
Long Drive Solar has several models to choose from but the one that works best for a retreat application is unquestionably the Scout . The Scout is designed for on or off-road or trail use. It has 8” ground clearance to the axles, and an unusually-high 19″ ground clearance to the bottom of the deck, off-road knobby tires, brush guards/bumper, front basket, and top rack (if you don’t use solar, however, I strongly suggest the solar option). The Scout comes in 2, 4, and 6 seat configurations and can also have a box body on the back for hauling hay, firewood, garden produce, or other items. This is clearly the way to go for a rural retreat.
One of the most frequently asked questions is how far and how fast will these vehicles go. As previously stated, to qualify as an LSV, the vehicle must go between 20 and 25 mph. As to “how far”, most standard golf carts have a range of about 20 miles on a single charge. Our LSVs are constantly charging the batteries through the solar panel and have an average range of 80-100 miles [in a day] on a single charge. That mileage may vary depending on terrain and driving conditions. Either way, you can count on a minimum of at least a 30% increase in performance. I’ve driven the one I have for several months and I have never had to “plug it in”, not once.
Federal and State Tax Credits
With the Federal and State governments pushing to implement “green technologies”, this opportunity is just right for those interested in buying a vehicle that is a self-sustaining, affordable means of transportation. Although a vehicle like this costs between $7,000 to $10,000 dollars (with a solar top), thanks to Uncle Sam and your local State government you get an early Christmas present in the form of huge Tax Credits. Depending on which State you live in, you could get your “dream-come-true” off-road vehicle for a net cost of zero; that’s right, zero. If you happen to live in Oklahoma, you have the ability to capture up to 120% of the actual cost. Yes, you can actually make money by purchasing one of these vehicles. Other states, like Georgia, Hawaii, and Florida benefit in the 70-80% Tax Credit range. Go to www.dsireusa.org  and http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/  to find out what your State offers as Tax Credits.
Note that the largest part of the Federal Tax Credits expire on December 31, 2009 and will likely mot be renewed, therefore, all electric vehicles must be purchased no later than December 31, 2009, to take advantage of this tax credit. Individual State Tax Credits vary, some end at the end of this year, while others extend until 2015. Please check with your local State Tax Commission on the time lines.
So where can you buy your LSV?
Here’s where I get to plug our company and some of our competition. If you go to our web site LongDriveSolar.com , you can find a lot of good info and can take a look at some of our products. Long Drive Solar has its corporate offices in Atlanta, Georgia. We also have a large Dealership in Oklahoma City and dealer representatives located throughout the US. Please give us a call or contact us online. Some of the other companies that provide quality products are Tomberlin Vehicles , Eco E ATV , Bad Boy Buggies  and several others. Note: Long Drive Solar is the only company in the US that sells a factory installed solar system on most models of their LSVs.
Beware before you buy: When you go to buy your vehicle, make sure that your dealer provides you with certification from the IRS that their vehicle (and specifically the model you are buying) qualifies for the Federal and State Tax Credits. Make sure you check with your tax accountant regarding any paperwork you will need to get from the dealer, so that you can legally take advantage of the tax credits.
One other important note: All electric vehicles are not created equal with respect to the Federal tax credits. The IRS has many different levels of tax credits on the same vehicle. The amount of credit depends on the amp rating of the battery bank; the higher the amp rating, the higher the credit, so make sure you’re getting the most power and the highest available tax credit for your dollar.
For those of you that lean toward the “green movement”, and believe me I’m all for renewable energy, these vehicles can help with your LEEDS certification  points as well as helping to offset your personal carbon footprint.
If you have always wanted a reliable means of transportation with a renewable source of energy it would be well worth your time to take a look at the new forms of sustainable transportation on the market today, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime Tax Credits that could make your solar vehicle absolutely free [after you complete your taxes for 2009]. Believe me, my solar LSV was looking mighty fine when gas was pushing $5 per gallon.
From my perspective this type of transportation is something to consider. Just remember, do your homework and buy the best you can afford because one day your life may depend on what you have invested in.
If you would like to learn more about any of the products or technology talked about here please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com