Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Making a Difference: President Obama, Marine Preserves and Monuments

Obama and  coral reefs

Obama Preserved Many Coral Reefs

“President Obama established the first national marine monument off the east coast of the United States.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

March 19, 2017—-President Obama joined an elite group of people that led to the establishment of our national parks and monuments. Two of those men were John Muir and  President Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 under which many of our national parks and monuments were established. The Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to set aside sites that are historically or scientifically important.

The Antiquities Act of 1906

Since Roosevelt signed the act more than a thousand different marine protected areas have been created. President Obama used this act to further our federal park system 29 times during his eight years in office. Some of the area is on land and some is in the global ocean. President Obama set aside more ocean environments, as monuments and reserves,  than any other person in history. Altogether he added more than 850 thousand square miles (1.3+ million km2) of ocean for new reserves and additions to existing one.

Seamounts and ocean monuments

Seamounts preserved by President Obama

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument

Under American law oceans existing within 200 nautical miles of land can be included in protected reserves. On September 5, 2016 President Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. It is the first national marine monument off the east coast of the United States. It covers approximately 4,913 square miles (12,725 sq km) and includes two separate sections that are near each other. One includes three canyons cut into the continental shelf,  and the other includes four extinct volcanoes or seamounts that exist on the deep sea floor off the shelf.

Coral bleaching and reefs

Coral bleaching is happening along many reefs today.

Seamounts of the Oceans

Along much of the Atlantic coast of the United States there exists an underwater shelf that extends out to sea for a great distance. Scattered along the edge of this shelf are deep canyons cut into the edge. The canyons drop thousands of feet. The exact origin of these canyons is unclear. One section of the monument includes three of these canyons. The larger section of the monument includes four seamounts. A feature of this section is that approximately 50 species of deep sea coral reside nearby. Some at depths of more than 12,800 feet (3900 meters). Commercial fishing and the taking of any physical or organic material from the site is prohibited. Some crab and lobster harvesting will be allowed for several years but then terminated.

Marine monuments and Obams

President Obama set aside marine monuments.

Papahänaumokuäkea Marine National Monument includes the Hawaiian Islands and extends to the northwest to include Midway and other islands. This monument was first created by George W. Bush. In 2016 Obama quadrupled the size of the reserve. It now includes nearly 600,000 square miles (966,000km2) of ocean islands making it the largest marine reserve in the world. It is also the largest single area protected by the United States and is a United Nation Heritage Site. It contains thousands of marine species, half of them unique to the Hawaiian Islands.

Seamounts and the Tropical Oceans

One of the significant aspects of the marine monuments and preserves that Obama set aside is that they are north of the tropic of Cancer. Most coral reefs are in the tropical oceans. These reefs are being destroyed by bleaching due to warming water. The most severe damage to coral reefs is between the equator and 30 degrees either side of the equator. More than 30 countries in this region have reported bleaching to offshore reefs.

The establishment of the reserves and monuments in higher latitudes not only stops damage by fishing and collecting but promises to provide time to study the reef life before the seas have a chance to warm enough to destroy them. Thanks President Obama!


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The Trump Administration and the Clean Power Plan

Clean Power Plan

What kind of planet will we leave our children?

“Repealing the Clean Power Plan will not bring back jobs in the coal mines!”

By Linn Smith

March 9, 2017—-Mike Pence, now Vice President of the U.S. under the Trump administration, has had a long history of denying climate change. In 2001, Pence wrote in an article titled, Global Warming Disaster, “global warming is a myth, the earth is actually cooler today than it was 50 years ago,” and in 2009 he stated it was not clear whether our changing climate was due to human activity, saying there was a growing skepticism in the scientific community about global warming.

Pence and the Clean Power Plan

In 2009 Pence led 27 states, along with Indiana, where he governed between 2013-2017, in a fight against Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was a “commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, while maintaining an affordable, reliable energy system, which would cut pollution and protect our health and environment now and for future generations.” In a 2014 speech Pence stated that Indiana is a pro-coal state which will continue to fight “overreaching schemes” of the EPA until the war on coal comes to an end.

Letter to Pence from Scientists

Indiana scientists sent a letter to Governor Pence in 2015, pleading with him to call on their expertise, a letter which went unanswered. Part of the letter states:

“Dear Governor Pence, Our understanding of the Earth’s climate has come a long way in the past 100 yrs. and the role of greenhouse gases is now well documented. The Earth’s atmosphere contains greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap heat from the Sun that would otherwise be transmitted back out to space. Changes in the carbon dioxide concentration strongly influence Earth’s climate. In the past century, the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere has increased by 30%. This increase, in large measure, is the result of human use of fossil fuels for energy. This carbon transfer has increased global temperatures in our lifetimes, with a set of secondary effects such as weather patterns that are more erratic and extreme. Like the overwhelming majority of scientists, we project that this human-produced effect will continue to grow into the foreseeable future…….Our challenge today is to explore opportunities to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies in Indiana that reflect our interests to protect energy and transportation infrastructure, the health of the public economic development. We would be privileged to help you in this effect……..” Again, this letter has remained unanswered.

clean power plan

Is Trump good for the environment?

Clean Power Plan and the Lawsuit

The Trump administration is currently attempting to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which was part of Obama’s effort to fight global warming. The lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan is currently in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, waiting a decision. The court decision could be made anytime between now and several years down the road.

The clean power plan

The Clean Power Plan for the health of our planet!

According to an article by Brad Plumer on http://www.Vox.com, the court process could take years as the EPA will have to write a new coal power plant rule, along with a legal explanation of why it’s changing its mind, followed by responses from the public. Because of regulations regarding the court battle, the Clean Power Plan is currently not in effect while the decision is being made. The court could rule: A) that the EPA does have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide from existing power plants under Section 111(d), B) It does not have the authority, or C) the law is ambiguous and its up for interpretation. Matt Pilon says in, “Clean Power Plan Repeal could have Mixed Impacts”, the short-term impact of a Clean Power Plan delay would be that utilities would be able to lower emissions more gradually, relieving them of some potential costs.

Clean Power Plan

Keeping our nation clean.

Repealing the Clean Power Plan will not bring back jobs in the coal mines! The jobs have been lost to natural gas, renewable resources, open pit mining and mountaintop mining, which is less expensive and requires less manpower—even though it is environmentally devastating. The answer? Retraining coal miners and rebuilding the infrastructure of coal mining country.

Retraining Coal Miners

Wind technician is one of the fastest growing fields in today’s job market. President Obama allotted $14.5 million in federal funding for programs to retrain out of work coal miners and to develop the economy of coal country.

Change must be accepted! It was also devastating for small farmers in the midwest to lose their family farms to large corporations. But all the Willie Nelson farm aide concerts that took place couldn’t save the small farmer. Change happens!

Clean Power Plan


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Grameen Shakti: One of The World’s Fastest Growing Renewable Energy Companies

Renewables in Bangladesh

Shakti provides solar for rural areas.

“Sustainable Energy: Entrepreneurial companies like Shakti are proving we can do far better than business as usual.”

By Linn Smith

February 10, 2017—-Founded in 1996 in Bangladesh, Grameen Shakti has installed over 5 million solar home systems and created over 100,000 clean energy jobs. Grameen Shakti was set up as a not-for-profit in 1996 to bring modern energy services to households, by providing both energy technology (solar-home-systems for electricity, improved stoves and biogas for cooking) and affordable finance, at a local level.

Renewable Energy

Shakti provides solar for small businesses.

Solar in Rural Bangladesh

In Bangledesh 80% of the population lives in rural areas, which is where Grameen Shakti gets its name—translation is “rural energy”. Nearly half of rural Bangladesh becomes islands during the rainy season as snow melts in the Himalayas, rushing through the countryside to the Indian Ocean. Income varies among the populations with many people finding solar out of reach because of low income. Obtaining solar would equal the entirety of several months wages for some people.

Grameen Shakti

Solar power is provided for rural Bangladesh.

Creating Rural Supply Chains for Solar

Shakti focuses its solar energy towards what the customer needs, and makes plans with the rural people to pay for it with very affordable loans. In an article by Nancy Wimmer, director of microSOLAR, she states, “Shakti meets this challenge by creating rural supply chains and after-sales service. Its engineers and technicians live, work and are trained on the job in the villages. They become part of the community, keep in close contact with their customers, and make sure the solar systems are in good repair and running properly. If there is a problem, Shakti is on site to solve it – even in times of disaster. Shakti sent young, motivated engineers into the hinterland to set up its first branches. They won the trust of the villagers, trained village technicians, managed all financing, solar installations and maintenance. This laid the groundwork for Shakti’s quality service and steady growth, but it took years to develop.” Shakti now has 1500 branch offices in every district of Bangledesh, and has trained mostly women as engineers.

Grameen Shakti

Shakti provides Bangladesh with solar power.

Solar and Biogas: Creating Clean Energy

Today Grameen Shakti has reached nearly 8 million rural dwellers, with not only solar but also biogas plants, which are produced by the breakdown of organic matter such as agricultural waste, manure sewage or food waste. It has also provided over 600,000 energy efficient cook stoves to rural areas.

Wimmer also states, “There are no silver bullets for solving the many problems facing traditional rural societies, but entrepreneurial companies like Shakti are proving we can do far better than business as usual. Shakti succeeds in such a tough business because it has found a way to provide affordable services and financing to a million village customers with microcredit.”

Shakti: Moving Towards a Low Carbon Vison

Shakti is a winner of the Ashden award, which supports sustainable energy trailblazers that focus on a world where everyone has access to affordable, clean energy. The Ashden awards recipients are encouraged to move closer towards a low carbon vision through tangible, powerful examples to inspire others to act by providing the winners finance, publicity, and research.

Grameen Shakti: Doing what it can, where it can to create a healthier planet!


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  The Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer

Ogallala aquifer depletion

Depletion of the aquifer

“The Ogallala is recharged by rainwater but only about 1 inch of precipitation actually reaches the aquifer annually.”

By Linn Smith

April 12, 2016—–The Ogallala Aquifer is at risk of drying up! The aquifer, which is part of the High Plains Aquifer, underlies portions of 8 states, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, and spans 175,000 sq. miles in the midwest United States. Water from the aquifer has many uses but irrigation uses the majority—57 million gallons per day! The Ogallala also supplies approximately 82% of the drinking water for the overlying states.

Water Accumulation in the Ogallala

Water started accumulating in the aquifer 15,000 years ago. Brownie Wilson, a researcher for the Kansas Geological Survey, states, “If the topsoil were rolled up like a carpet the sponge beneath would look like an empty egg carton, with peaks and valleys of varying depths. In parts of western Nebraska, where the Ogallala is plentiful, the sponge extends as far as a thousand feet below the Earth’s surface.”

Depletion of the Ogallala

The Aquifer lies beneath 8 states.

Water Extraction of the Aquifer

Large scale extraction of water from the aquifer for farming purposes began after WWII due to improved farming methods and farm equipment. About 27% of the irrigated farmland in the U.S. lies over the aquifer. Currently the farmland above the aquifer produces about 1/5 of the beef, corn and wheat consumed in the U.S., but the water is depleting faster than nature can replenish it according to an ongoing 60 year study.

In some parts of western Kansas wells have totally dried up! Between the years 2000 and 2008, 25% of the Ogallala Aquifer has depleted from levels of the early 1800’s. Once depleted the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally from rainfall. A 2013 study forecasted that the High Plains Aquifer, which the Ogallala makes up the greatest portion, would be 69% depleted by 2060.The Ogallala is recharged by rainwater but only about 1 inch of precipitation actually reaches the aquifer annually. Recharge of the aquifer ranges from 0.024 inches per year in Texas and New Mexico to 6 inches per year in parts of Kansas, but hundreds of thousands of years of rainfall will be needed to replenish it back to its levels of the early 1800’s.

Ogallala aquifer

U.S. Aquifers are being depleted.

A Depleted Aquifer will Affect Food Supply

In an article written by Laura Parker,” What Happens to the Midwest When the Water’s Gone?” she states “If they don’t reduce pumping and the aquifer is drained, food markets will be profoundly affected around the world. In the coming decades this slow-speed crisis will unfold just as the world needs to increase food production by 60 percent, according to the United Nations, to feed more than nine billion people by mid-century.”

Solutions to a Depleted Aquifer

Solutions? Farmers can either conserve water and extend the life of the aquifer or choose to deplete it. Farmers can dig deeper wells if they run out of water, but the cost has to be determined because eventually deeper and deeper wells could cost more than the income from the crops.

The North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Texas has introduced a new project to conserve water. Participating farmers grow corn with just over half of the water they would normally require to irrigate the fields using pivot sprinklers rather than the water consuming drip system and they plant crops farther apart to help conserve water. Many farmers are choosing the dryland farming method which uses crops that are drought-resistant and conserve moisture without irrigation. Such crops include sunflowers and winter wheat, but these crops produce less income than crops from irrigated farming, so pressure is on many farmers to keep pumping.

The Ogallala Aquifer and Water Rights

What is happening to the Ogallala Aquifer is also happening to aquifers in Africa, Asia and the Mideast. Again, just as the population of our earth is exploding, our aquifers are becoming contaminated and depleted, taking thousands of years to refill. We need to conserve our groundwater to sustain food production for an increasing population. In Kansas and Nebraska, groundwater belongs to the public. Water rights are granted to property owners by the state, which assign a certain amount that can be legally used—-but what’s available on paper often exceeds what’s left in the ground! Farmers often feel the water is legally theirs to use until it’s gone!

Laura Parker says, “Hope lies in technology; farmers show me iPhone apps that track water use so precisely that as little as a tenth of an inch can be applied to their crops. In Colby, Kansas, Lon Frahm, who farms 30,000 acres of wheat and corn, irrigates with two billion gallons of water yearly. He counts among his farmhands an IT technician who collects data to keep his yields ahead of his declining wells.”

Wind Farms Replace Crops

In the past several years many farmers have retired from crop farming, leasing their land to wind energy. Outside Friona, Texas, northwest of Lubbock, Wesley Barnett leases wind rights on his land to an energy company. The going rate runs about $10,000 a year per turbine.  Barnett says he can’t water his land anymore so for some people, wind is a lifeline.

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International Action on Climate Change Surges in 2016

Fossil Fuels

Coal and Oil Formation

“In order to halt global warming, all countries need to participate including the U.S. under the new administration!”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

November 7, 2016—–There have been a number of events this year which have both indicated the growing awareness of the extent of climate change and also a willingness for nations to work together to solve the problems of climate change. Among them are two of particular importance. They are the actions taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to reduce or eliminate the use of hydrofluorocarbons.

Implementing the Paris Agreement on Limiting Greenhouse Gases

In December of 2015, a conference was held in a suburb of Paris, France to discuss the effects of global warming and actions to take. Attending were more heads of state than had ever before attended a single conference in world history. The outcome was that nearly all of the countries presented plans to reduce greenhouse gases in the near future. But in order for this agreement to become a working document enough countries must sign up, sharing the responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an additional 55%. The goal is to keep global temperatures from rising 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. The goal is to keep the level below 1.5ºC. Enacting this agreement would be a huge step forward in slowing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

The time table for implementing the agreement was the year 2020. In a surprising show of support for the agreement it took just 10 months for the requisite number of countries to sign on. This meant the participants wanted action now, not four years from now. So far more than 75 countries have signed on. If these countries meet their goals it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions more than the required 55% set out in the agreement.

There is, as one might expect, some opposition to the Paris agreement. Donald Trump, the president elect of the United States has said that he would cancel the U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. This is in spite of the fact that the U.S. is one of the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. If the U.S. pulls out of the agreement it will be more difficult to reach the goals of the plan. The president of the Philippines has also indicated that he would not honor the agreement. Politics in Brazil may result in that country pulling out as well. Only time will determine how dedicated the international community is in reducing greenhouse gases and global warming.

Cop 21

There is a lot of hard work to be done after the Cop21 agreement.

International Action on Hydroflourocarbons (HFC’s)

In 1974, scientists warned there was evidence to suggest that compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have a depleting effect on stratospheric ozone layers. They first came into use in refrigerators in the 1930s. Since World War II, they have been used as propellants in deodorants and hair sprays, in producing plastic foams, and in cleaning electronic parts.

Chlorofluorocarbons rise into the upper atmosphere where they break apart and end up reducing the ozone concentration. The most disturbing reduction in atmospheric ozone is that found over the Antarctic Continent and is referred to as the ozone hole. The ozone hole over Antarctica has occurred in September and October since the late 1970s. Scientists around the world soon realized the amount of damage the chlorofluorocarbons were doing to the environment. The U.N. Environment Program called for a conference in Montreal, Canada, in September 1987, which drafted a treaty restricting the production of CFCs. The agreement is officially termed the Montreal protocol. International support for the treaty led to a substantial reduction in CFC production. Evidence now indicates that the average extent of the Antarctic ozone hole is declining. In the Antarctic spring of 2015 (September and October) the extent of the hole was only about ½ of what the previous maximum area had been.

Save Planet Earth

In an extremely important event with implications for global warming took place in Vienna, Austria in July of 2016. Most countries that took part in the Paris conference attended the meeting. The participants in this conference reached agreement to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals used as refrigerants in place of the Chlorofluorocarbons that resulted in the Antarctic ozone hole. HFCs are not a large percentage of greenhouse gases, but they are perhaps the most effective in terms of absorbing earth radiation. Use of these chemicals has grown rapidly in the last decade due to the increasing use of air conditioning and refrigeration. It was hoped that an agreement would be reached before a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda in October. The proposal would result in an amendment to the Montreal protocol that limited the use of CFCs. The main problem holding up the agreement was the date when the participating countries had to begin reducing the use of the HFCs.

The Kigali conference was major success, 170 countries sent representatives that worked for four days to negotiate the amendment. The result was a document that would eliminate 90% of the current usage of HFCs. A compromise was reached on when countries would start the reduction. The reduction efforts would begin for some of the wealthier countries in 2019. More than 100 countries, including China, have a beginning date of 2024. A few others, including India, committed to a 2028 start. Making the change is more difficult in developing countries which are tied to older technology. The reductions are based on changing corporate usage and in new alternate chemicals becoming available. There are already alternate chemicals available and new ones in development. If the countries met their goals it would reduce the forthcoming temperature rise by a half degree Celsius.

In order to halt global warming, all countries need to participate including the U.S. under the new administration!


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A Trump Presidency: Can Our Environment Survive?

Climate Change and Mass Extinction

Mass extinction could happen again-do we care?

“Utilities companies will buy from sources based on economics, not politics, and its difficult to see how utilities would suddenly start buying coal.”

By Linn Smith

November 18, 2016—The big question on my mind the past several weeks concerns the effects of a Trump presidency on our environment. Will the years of effort towards clean energy, both locally and globally, survive under the new administration? I must admit to feeling more than a little worried! Trump has no clean energy plan and appears to have very little knowledge or interest in the environment, denying scientific facts of our rapidly warming planet!

Clean Energy Speaks Loudest

According to an article in Computerworld, “Trump’s Coal Revival Plan Won’t Work”, analysts say clean energy will be difficult to reverse because, “clean energy has become so cheap it will continue to increase its domination of the energy industry.”—the pocketbook speaks the loudest!

Trump and Energy Plan

Will it remain?

But Trump still may undo the tax credit for solar, the Clean Energy Plan and our support for the Paris Agreement (see planetearth5.com, “The Historic Paris Climate Conference-Cop21”). Raj Prabhu, CEO for a clean energy firm, commented on the tax credit roll back that may happen under the Trump administration, “It could happen, but it’s unlikely, due to the bipartisan nature of how the bill was passed in Congress and the momentum solar has right now. Solar has gone mainstream with utilities companies, businesses, and home owners, not to mention that solar jobs exceed over 200,000.” Last year 31,000 new solar jobs were added to the industry, 20 times the national average for job creation. Plus, solar power systems prices are constantly declining–30% in 2016.

Prabhu also states “Contrary to election rhetoric, it’s not regulation or renewable subsidies that are killing coal; it’s actually natural gas, which is cheap and abundant. Utilities companies will buy from sources based on economics, not politics, and its difficult to see how utilities would suddenly start buying coal.” Added to this is the fact that, although environmentally devastating, many coal mining jobs have been lost due to table top mining, which requires less labor.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

Countering the Trump Administration

William Yardley of the Los Angeles Times, states in his article, “Will Paris Climate Accord and Other Environmental Pacts Survive a Trump Presidency?” that Trump will be the only world leader to question whether climate change is real. ” Many activists have long argued that government cannot be counted on to lead on climate issues. Some say a blend of global market forces affecting fossil fuels, the declining cost of solar and wind energy, grass-roots activism, legal action in U.S. courts and international pressure could help counter whatever efforts a Trump administration might make to undo existing policies.”

Lack of Leadership Won’t Stop Transition To Clean Energy

And K.C. Golden chairman of 350.org, “This is obviously a setback, in part because we started so damn late and there’s already quite a bit of damage, but this transition (renewable energy) is underway and it’s driven by a whole lot of things–human will, local policy, state policy, international policy, and technology development. There will be more of a price to pay and more climate damage will accumulate and be inflicted on people, because we’ll go slower than we would go if we had concerted American leadership, but the lack of American leadership won’t stop the transition.”

Maybe I have searched for the more positive aspects concerning predictions about our future under a new administration with no clean energy plan, but that’s ok. Me, and maybe a few of you, needed it! We, as individuals, must embrace the responsibility to create a cleaner environment, while supporting local, state and international efforts towards saving our planet.

Clean Energy and the Trump Administration


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The First Solar Car to Cross a Continent

The Solar Achiever, 1984

The first solar car to cross a continent.

“Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun.”

By Linn Smith

August 24, 2016—-“Maybe one day we’ll all be driving around in solar-powered cars. And, if that happens, the names of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins will have a place in history. Without men like these, this would be a duller place. The spirit of adventure is not yet dead.”—Melbourne Herald News

The Solar Achiever

The solar car took only 8 months to build.

The Quiet Achiever

In Australia in 1982, Perkins and Tholstrup, wanting to popularize solar, built the first solar-manned car to cross a continent. With an attitude of, “There’s nothing that can’t be done,” they built the solar vehicle for about $50,000. The car, known as the Quiet Achiever, was designed in only 8 months. It was piloted by Perkins and Tholstrup who only stopped along the route at night to camp. In less than 20 days, the solar powered car made its trek from Perth to Sydney, traveling 2,500 miles from coast to coast across Australia.

The Solar Achiever

The solar car traveled 2500 miles in 20 days.

Using Only the Sun’s Power

The body of the solar car was made of fiberglass and the frame of steel tubing. It had a 1 kilowatt photovoltaic power system mounted on the roof that allowed it to travel approximately 14 miles per hour. Using only the sun for power, the two 12 volt batteries stored enough power to give the car about 90 minutes of energy without the sun. But on this trip there was enough sun to keep the car fully charged at all times. The solar car met with very few problems and was periodically monitored to assure that only solar power was being used.

The Melbourne Age newspaper stated at the time, “The journey of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins from Perth to Sydney in The Quiet Achiever will go down as one of the pioneering feats in history. Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun. It constitutes the fastest chapter in man’s learning how to co-operate with powers beyond his own–the sun!”

The Solar Achiever