Battle Mountain students prepping for the Solar Rollers Trophy Race |

Battle Mountain students prepping for the Solar Rollers Trophy Race

EDWARDS — George Jouflas does not tinker — he designs and redesigns. Take the solar powered remote control car his Battle Mountain High School crew is building for the Solar Rollers Trophy Race. He's rebuilding the suspension to work like a Formula 1 car or Grand Prix racing motorcycle. Then, he created some kind of traction control. The team is also doing some amazing things to save weight because it's battery powered. The lighter it is, the longer and faster it will run. He isn't saying how any of this works because it's a Solar Roller race, after all, and someone has to win. "It might as well be us," he said smiling. Noah Davis runs Energetics Education, a regional nonprofit that helps young people create solutions for the world's energy issues. One way to learn that is to design, build and race solar-powered remote control race cars. Solar Rollers is their flagship program. All kinds of parts go to teams of high school kids all around the region, and the kids make the cars function. They run on sunshine for at least an hour. How much longer than that is what they'll determine later this month when they gather at Glenwood Springs High School to race, and pray that Ra the Egyptian sun god is having a good day. It turns out that the only other place doing this is technical colleges in France. When TSA means something good Daniel Lewandowski teaches technology at Battle Mountain High School and runs the school's Technology Student Association. That's where their Solar Roller crew is from. It started as an after-school program for kids who love technology. Not gamers. These are kids who can take stuff apart, which any rock-wielding troglodyte can do. They put it back together and make it work properly, or better than it did before. This is Davis's second year to lead the regional project. The first year was a success, as well as what you'd call "a character building adventure" for the four teams from four schools who competed. He procured a bunch of parts he thought should go in a solar car. Some worked, some didn't, but when the green flag dropped the cars performed admirably, racing at the national energy laboratory in Golden. This year, 10 teams from seven regional high schools will compete in the race. "It's an energy-based competition. They're trying to make the most of solar energy," Davis said. "They have to understand how it works and how to design it." The instructions are pretty simple. Cars have a solar panel to collect sunlight. The teams have design freedom, but the cars tend to look alike because Davis gives them a big box of identical parts. What they do with those parts, though, is entirely up to them. The teams show up with their cars and have 30 minutes to charge them. Then the green flag drops and they race for an hour. Like Le Mans, they trade out drivers periodically. The teams wear matching suits. Pit crew kids even have all their tools waiting for something to break. The competition is broken into five segments: A team panel quiz, photovoltaic top speed (no battery), top speed with storage (sunlight plus battery), 2 laps on the course powered only by sunlight, main circuit race consisting of 30 minutes to charge empty batteries followed by 60 minutes of circuit racing. The green flag drops on May 17 at Glenwood Springs High School.

MacGyver-inspired moment leads to a win for Vail Valley students

EAGLE COUNTY — The clear skies were clouding up for Battle Mountain's Technology Student Association. After racing to a big lead in the Solar Roller rally, a bunch of racing happened. Their car was mangled after a competitor crashed into them and they were 40 laps down, working feverishly to get back on the track as other teams' remote control solar race cars sped past. And that's when they had their MacGyver moment. They replaced a non-replaceable broken king pin with the top of a drill bit and the spring from an ink pen. Turns out there's more to winning a solar car race than stomping the accelerator and praying that Ra, the Egyptian sun god, is having a good day. Bumps and breaks Battle Mountain's strategy was uncomplicated yet classic racing. They planned to take the high road, said faculty advisor Daniel Lewandowski. "The plan was to go faster and outrun other people, to stay away from them," Lewandowski explained patiently. The problem, though, was that other racers didn't stay away from Battle Mountain. Some put the pow in solar power, banging into each other like solar powered bumper cars. In NASCAR parlance, they "swapped some paint." A horrific collision completely broke off Battle Mountain's right front wheel. They had to redesign the wheel and rebuild it, right there beside the track on the concrete with limited tools and parts that were sort of designed for this, but not really. You know how MacGyver could make an F-16 out of a box of paper clips, a two liter soda bottle and some duct tape? This was like that, only real. The spring from an ink pen became a shock absorber. A carbide drill bit replaced a specialized pin in the steering mechanism. While they were working, they fell further and further behind. Their large lead evaporated and by the time they were back on the track they were 40 laps behind. Lap by lap they closed in. The car was running perfectly, cornering like it was on rails. But then the front bumper started sagging and dragging on the track surface. That made it more like driving cattle than a race car. They fixed the bumper three times, but it kept falling. Finally, down by three laps with time running short, it fell one last time. They stampeded for the car with team leader George Jouflas screaming, "Rip it off! Rip it off!" Lewandowski picked up the car and yanked the bumper off. The car ran perfectly, but they were completely exposed. One more front-end collision would break the connection to the solar panels and end their day. By that time, their batteries were gone, but so were everyone else's. They were running at "renewable speed," the speed at which straight solar power would push the car. Because their car was lighter and more efficient, their renewable speed was the fastest in the field. Jouflas managed to steer clear of everyone, make up the three laps and when they won, they were eight laps ahead of their nearest competitor. The ironic thing was, Jouflas didn't know they'd won and kept driving. He wears headphones plugged into classical music, so he couldn't hear the celebration. "They started running over to me and I yelled for them to get out of the way. It took me a few seconds to realize we'd won," Jouflas said. Jouflas piloted the car for 178 laps, over 60 minutes and an average speed of 25 mph. It'll go faster if you gear it right. Lessons learned When it was over, the Solar Roller rally did what it was supposed to do. Jouflas announced to the cameras that he wants to be an engineer — and if his solar car designs are any indication, he is already. The rest of the team has similar aspirations. "It was truly an educator's dream come true," Lewndowski said. "This was one of the best teaching experiences I have been a part of yet." They'll be back to defend their title next year. In the meantime, the students are looking for sponsors to help them build a life-sized solar car next year out of an old VW Bug, golf cart batteries and solar panels. MacGyver couldn't do that. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

Eagle County kids spinning wrenches to build solar-powered race cars

EAGLE COUNTY — When Noah Davis launched a solar car competition, he knew he had to answer one question: How fast does it go? Really, really fast. Davis runs Energetics Education, a nonprofit that helps young people create solutions to the world's energy issues. If you're going to save the world, you need to know a little about how it works or at least how its energy systems work, he says. One step toward that is designing, building and racing solar-powered remote control cars. Solar Rollers is Energetics Education's flagship program. It hands all kinds of parts to teams of high school kids all over the region, and the kids make the cars go. They run on sunshine for at least an hour. How much longer than that is what they'll determine in May when they gather at Glenwood Springs High School to race and pray that Ra, the Egyptian sun god, is having a good day. "It's an energy-based competition. They're trying to make the most of solar energy," Davis said. Last year was the first time they tried it, and most of the kids did the sensible thing — putting the solar panel on top of the car so they could embrace as many of the sun's loving rays as possible. This year, they have 10 teams from eight high schools around the region. The instructions are pretty simple. "You have this much area to collect sunlight, and we'll see you at the race in May," Davis said, using his hands to create rectangle about two feet long and 18 inches wide. They work like radio controlled cars. Most of the teams are supplied with basic materials. Energetics Education supplies the foam bumpers, the controller, wheels, suspension and most of the hundreds of other parts. "They have to understand how it works and how to design it," Davis said. IDENTICAL PARTS, UNIQUE IDEAS The teams have design freedom, but some of the cars tend to look alike because Davis gives them a big box of identical parts. What they do with those parts, though, is entirely up to them. "We show them a basic configuration that works. Some schools are completely designing theirs from scratch," Davis said. He's heard that one school — he isn't saying which — is working with carbon fiber to build their chassis. It'll be lighter and the theory is that it will travel faster and further. The teams show up with their cars and have 30 minutes to charge them. Then the green flag drops and they race for an hour. "They have as much energy as they can harvest," Davis said. The competition is broken into five segments: a team panel quiz, photovoltaic top speed (no battery), top speed with storage (sunlight plus battery), two laps on the course powered only by sunlight, main circuit race consisting of 30 minutes to charge empty batteries followed by 60 minutes of circuit racing. The cars go up to 25 mph. It's like playing a twitchy video game for an hour. Like LeMans, they trade out drivers periodically. The teams wear matching suits. Kids on the pit crew even have all their tools with them, waiting for something to break. The green flag drops on May 17 at Glenwood Springs High School. They're already looking for schools to go to the website and sign up for next year. They tried it last year with four high schools and raced at the National Energy Lab in Golden. "The only other place this has been done is technical colleges in France," Davis said. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

Aspen solar trailer rolling with new name

ASPEN, Colorado Sunny the Solar Roller will soon make its debut at city-permitted special events in Aspen, Colorado, starting with the Food & Wine Classic and Ride the Rockies in June. The solar trailer was named in a recent contest with the combination of two entries.Beau Cameron, an eighth-grader at Aspen Middle School, submitted the name Sunny for the solar trailer, which will provide 500 watts of continuous power for roughly eight hours or enough power to run a small sound system. Aspenite Dylan Hoffman submitted the name Solar Roller.The trailer, built by Aspen Solar, will be towable by most vehicles and used at city-permitted events as a way to help them meet the citys environmental standards. If the batteries run low, the system has the option to connect to the grid, and it also can send extra power back to the grid.

Vail Daily column: Students today, stewards tomorrow

As mountain peaks lose their snowy caps, creeks and rivers rush with whitewater and wildflowers fill meadows and woods with their vibrant color, we are once again embraced by summer as another school year closed its books. Throughout the 2016-17 academic year, the youth programs staff at Walking Mountains Science Center spent a combined 44,000 hours with 4,200 students in Eagle County through our Field Science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) pipeline programs. We worked with nearly all public and private schools in Eagle County to provide students with the opportunity to awaken a sense of wonder for science, sustainability and stewardship through hands-on learning experiences. “I wish we could do a field program for a whole week instead of just two days,” one sixth-grader from Eagle Valley Middle said to a friend on a Geomorphology Field Science Program. “Yeah, I just learn so much better outside,” the friend responded. Conversations like this are a testament to the importance and power of hands-on, experiential learning in the outdoors that our Field Science Programs provide. Since the STEM Leadership Academy after-school program expanded from sixth through eighth grades, we explored options to grow our STEM pipeline programming into high school. After securing funding from Energy Smart Colorado and RA Nelson, Amanda Hewitt, STEM coordinator, embraced the challenge of taking on a Solar Roller team. The Walking Mountains Solar Roller team worked diligently to design and build a working car, including the engineering and design process, circuitry, solar energy systems and collaboration. These types of experiences create indelible imprints on students’ minds that they will carry with them for a lifetime, even inspiring future career choices. After wrapping up the Girls in Science after-school program with three successful science fairs, Nicole Abrams, Girls in Science coordinator, organized a community-service project for Girls in Science participants. The project was done in collaboration with Bare Roots, the community food access coalition, which helped connect Girls in Science with volunteer opportunities at the Avon, Eagle and Eagle-Vail community gardens. Abrams taught the young ladies who participate in Girls in Science that as the things they do during experiments have an impact on the results, our actions as people have an impact on the world around us. This year, our free Girls in Science program was offered at nine Eagle County elementary schools. We are incredibly fortunate to have a strong partnership with many local organizations and businesses that help us move closer to achieving our goal of serving all kindergarten through eighth-grade students in Eagle County at least once a year throughout their academic career. Walking Mountains is committed to finding creative ways to serve as many students as possible every year, while infusing innovative curriculum into programming to build science literacy, cultivate a sense of place and inspire young stewards. I am so grateful for the passionate, talented and energetic teaching staff that works so hard to provide meaningful learning experiences to the students of Eagle County. Until next school year, join us this summer as we explore the natural playground that surrounds us and experience the magic of the mountains that have so much to teach. Beth Markham is the youth programs director at Walking Mountains Science Center.

Local kids win hydrogen car race

Eighth-graders at Eagle Valley Middle School know a good car when they see it. They also know how to build and run a good-driving machine. Teacher Michelle DeWine gave her gifted students an opportunity to build one. Those students took the challenge and recently participated in a race with their hydrogen cars – and they came out winners.On May 15, the two teams of Eagle Valley students competed at the National Center for Renewable Energy in Golden. The building had pretty tight security – the students and parents had to park in a special parking lot, then a bus took the kids to the site. Students were given indentification badges before entering the building, which contained a display of future uses for hydrogen and an area spotlighting solar energy. But the real action was outside, where the races took place.One team consisted of Nick Brink, James McGoodwin and Keegan Hammond. That team took second place in the first round, but their car but experienced an electrical problem in the second round. “It’s a little like double elimination at a basketball tournament,” DeWine says. Still the students enjoyed the experience. “We saw actual fuel cell cars – they looked like regular cars,” Hammond says. The big news of the day was Jaime Mann and Caitlin Yarger’s car. The girls went undefeated, winning the competition. This was the first competition the center hosted, so the girls were thrilled. “The best moment was winning,” says Yarger, adding classmate Hilary Henry couldn’t attend the competition, but did a lot of work on the car. To build a hydrogen car, the students started with a kit. Then, they decided whether to compete in the stock category, in which they build the car to the kit’s specifications, or the open category, where the racers make everything themselves and modify the kit. Both teams chose the open category. “We started working on it a few weeks before the competition,” Mann says. In the beginning, students were also given the choice of building a hydrogen fuel car or a solar sprint car. All went for the hydrogen. “It seemed like a newer idea,” Yarger says. Students credited their parents for also putting in a lot of work to make the cars.”These kids worked very hard,” DeWine says. “They had to go through a lot of trial and error before getting that winning car.” she One thing is for sure, these students learned a lot about cars and that’s a good thing because driving them is just a few years away.

Around the world on zero emissions

MINTURN, Colorado ” Louis Palmer has driven thousands of miles through Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Australia, New Zealand and now Minturn, Colorado. He hasn’t spent a dime on gasoline. His car is the “Solar Taxi.” It’s a sleek blue machine that sits low to the road, doesn’t make a sound while running and pulls a trailer covered in solar panels. The sun is his fuel, and there aren’t any earth warming carbon emissions pluming out a tail pipe. The solar taxi will be the first solar-powered vehicle to circumnavigate the globe. Palmer, the visionary and leader of the tour, said the big mission is to “show the people of the world that global warming can be stopped, and we can be independent from fossil fuels.” Palmer and his team began their journey on July 3, 2007, in Lucerne, Switzerland. They’re planning to make it through 40 different countries on five different continents and end the tour at the World Climate Change Conference in Poland in December. On Friday, the Solar Taxi team stopped in Minturn for lunch at the Turntable. They were getting ready to head over Vail Pass ” their highest elevation point for the whole trip. The next stop is Denver, then they’ll be driving through the Midwest, Washington D.C., New York and ending the North American jaunt in Montreal. So far, the solar car is performing quite well, Palmer said. It can get up to 55 miles per hour, and is handling the mountain roads fine. If the car needs to drive more than 100 kilometers a day, they have to charge the battery with additional power, which is just a matter of plugging it into an outlet. To help with that, they have a solar power plant on a rooftop in Berne, Switzerland, that puts solar-generated electricity back into the grid. This means a zero-carbon emissions trip. Palmer says that this car shows that the technology and ability to drive without depending on fossil fuels exists and that solutions to the world’s energy problems are out there. And if you aren’t sold on the environmental pluses ” listen to the economics. He said about a dollar’s worth of electricity is enough to power the car for 100 miles. Think of that next time you fork over 50 bucks for a fill-up. Louis Palmer calls his solar-powered car the “Solar Taxi” because he likes to take people on educational rides. More than 1,000 people have ridden with him, including world celebrities like Jay Leno. To more about the Solar Taxi’s global odyssey, visit Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

Vail Daily column: Rules to travel by

The other day, I got on an airplane and, as usual, fell asleep before it took off. And, just as Gulliver did, I woke up in the land of make-believe. Los Angeles … where your first experience is trying to find the carousel that is supposed to have your baggage from your mythical flight. I was once again introduced to the law of the airport. "It will take as long for your baggage to get from the airport to the carousel as it did for your body to arrive from your departure place." The trip from the curb to the car rental garage was in a bus big enough to hold the entire Super Bowl football team and driven by a lady who was about 4 foot 11 weighing 94 pounds and had just graduated from Race Car Driving School in Marin County. Fortunately, they had seat belts on the bus or we would have wound up in a heap, just like the baggage did, against the front windshield when the bus god cut off by a speeding automobile being chased by a police car. The rental car pickup went without a hitch except the rental clerk had to have someone standing with him, translating everything into Spanish so he could enter it into the computer. As I crept towards the on-ramp, for the freeway, to merge with the evening rush hour traffic, I realized I'd not done this for a few years and the butterflies in my stomach were bigger than in the stomach of a third-day skier when he discovers he has committed to make the second turn on a black diamond, mogul filled run. Once into the mainstream of the evening traffic, I watched as car after car changed lanes and slipped into the space between my car and the one in front of me. A rule of Los Angeles freeway driving is, "if there is enough space between you and the car in front of you, another car will cut in and fill it up. Nature abhors a vacuum." By the time I got over Sepulveda Pass and got ready to handle the interchange to Santa Barbara, I was tailgating just like someone in the Winston 500 and going as fast. I drove the 75 miles to Santa Barbara in a little less than an hour and never got into the fast lane! The next morning you could see forever … California was like it was when I was a youngster, clear skies and the sun sparkling off the water. But me being a youngster was 80-plus years ago! Walking to my meeting place that morning, I was almost knocked down by a couple on roller blades, both in a deep crouch and racing toward the acquisition of total body fitness. Dressed in matching purple and black spandex, silver roller blades and alternating green and red elbow pads (port and starboard, I wondered) and black brain buckets with a 6-foot ribbon flowing behind them allowing the second person to draft behind the first just as my car had been drafted the evening before while driving up the freeway behind big trucks. Except all the second skater got to see was the fanny of the person in front of them while they were crouched down and working out. After the meeting and on my return to LA, I avoided the freeway by driving down the coast route, but though it was great to have the ocean on my right, the speed of the oncoming traffic was nearly that of the freeway so I stayed way over to the right. I was heading toward a time-management seminar. I showed up late. Some start. Living like this is why I left the L.A. basin 25 years ago for the northwest eight months of the year and the mountains for the other four. I'm too old to remodel! Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller's stories and stuff, log onto For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to

Vail events plug into solar power on the go

VAIL — Whether it's a soundstage at a concert or a Christmas tree lighting, Vail's Volts Wagon has got it covered. The custom built, portable solar-panel trailer makes a unique addition to Vail's quiver of environmentally friendly initiatives and allows event organizers to plug into renewable energy anywhere within the town. Moveable solar panel units, which operate like solar-run generators, are commonly used at construction sites or at private homes, but Vail is among a growing number of municipalities choosing to get on the grid — and help the community do so as well. The idea was inspired by Aspen's Sunny the Solar Roller, a similar solar trailer. The Volts Wagon, designed by Minturn-based Active Energies Solar, consists of two 4-foot by 6-foot solar panels that collect energy from the sun. That energy is stored in large batteries inside the trailer, and the trailer can then be transported by any vehicle with a hitch. The Volts Wagon will be available for use at any Vail event free of charge. When the sun is shining, the Volts Wagon will provide 500 watts of power consistently. When the sun is not shining, the Wagon's four 224-amp, 6-volt batteries can provide 4,000 watts of power up to 14 hours, depending on how much power is needed. As Vail's Environmental Sustainability coordinator Kristen Bertuglia said, it isn't a large amount of energy, but it's enough to power something such as a small set of speakers for the Vail Jazz Festival's weekly performances, or to hold a holiday tree lighting using the town's LED lights. In full sun, the Wagon will power the equivalent of smaller band speakers, several laptop computers, audio/MC equipment, coffee makers and other small appliances all day long. When the trailer isn't in use at an event, it's plugged into the town's municipal building, offsetting the town's grid use. "It could power a small soundstage system for a few hours," said Jason Weingast, of Active Energies Solar. "It's a great alternative to using a generator." The Volts Wagon cost about $10,000 and was purchased with the help of sponsors Active Energies, Antlers at Vail, Highline and First Bank. Celebrate Green! The Volts Wagon will offer yet another way for event promoters to meet the town's green standards. The Celebrate Green! program requires promoters to meet certain sustainability standards — say, recycling, nixing the use of Styrofoam and properly disposing of wastewater. Beyond that, event organizers can earn additional green points by using alternative fuel vehicles, composting, purchasing carbon credits and, of course, using the Volts Wagon. "It's a program that started as a way to [be an] incentive [for] special events to go green," Bertuglia said. "The events that get the maximum number of points can receive the Celebrate Green! Award and get a refund of their permit fees." Some promoters have incorporated some creatively green aspects in their events. The Vail Farmers' Market has a zero-waste program incorporating composting and recycling, while also using compostable utensils and dishes. There are even volunteers on hand at the event to help attendees properly dispose of their trash. In some ways, the Volts Wagon is just as much a publicity measure as it is an energy-saving measure. Town officials hope that the trailer's presence at events will pique public interest in photovoltaic energy. The Wagon will travel to local schools, allowing students the opportunity to see how solar power works, up close and personal. "It's such a great way to bring solar power off the roof. You can see it and touch it, and from an educational standpoint it's great. The goal is to get it into the community and get them interested in solar power," Bertuglia said. There is a growing interest in photovoltaic power, said Weingast, of Active Energies. While the Volts Wagon was a special product built for the town, solar systems have been popping up around the valley. "We've been doing this for seven years, and demand has gone up," he said. "Also, there are some good rebates and incentives available. In fact, solar is currently cheaper than power from the grid."

Colorado solar-panel makers lead the pack

Even as the solar-cell industry struggles through its first decline in demand in more than a decade, flatbed trucks are hauling about $100 million in equipment to Ascent Solar Technologies Inc.’s new plant in Thornton. Even as solar-panel prices dropped 40 percent in 2009 to about $2.25 a watt on average, Abound Solar Inc.’s Longmont plant is rolling out its first photovoltaic panels. While it may seem the two Colorado companies are sailing into a head wind, they are just ahead of a spate of others. Plans for 15 new domestic solar-panel factories have been announced this year. “It is a race,” said Alison Wise, a senior market analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. “In part, it is a race to see who can stay in business and capitalize on solar’s growing market in the future,” Wise said. For more of this Denver Post story: