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Catching some rays

Ashlanders Brett Belan and his wife, Kira, have just finished engineering their newest electric solar-powered home-on-wheels, converted from a 1971 Volkswagen bus and delivered for a considerable sum to a Southern California buyer this past weekend.

It sports a dozen 245-watt solar panels on two leaves that slide out sideways to capture the sun’s energy, which goes into batteries that drive its electric motor for about 100 miles. With plug-in charging, it can travel up to 600 miles a day, says Brett.

It has a tall, pop-top canvas tent that creates lots of living space and sleeps four. It also has a sleeping loft — and its two rear seats convert to a bed. The clean, classy vehicle has an electric kitchen, cook top, water system, refrigerator and lighting.

Building the system takes lots of energy, inventing, wiring, welding and will power, but, says Brett, “We do it because it’s freedom from the terrible addiction of gasoline and that whole toxic scene. It gives you the opportunity to slow down, if you’re willing to, without having to think about where the next gas or charging station is.”

Kira did the sharp interior, wiring, soldering, accounting and created the website, noting, “I’ve definitely grown a lot doing this work. I’m comfortable with a table saw, which used to scare me. ... He’s got the brains and knows how to make it work, and I make it pretty.”

Brett is a 1997 mechanical engineering graduate of Michigan Tech and went on to work for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit and Jaguar in England.

The Belans still have their prototype VW-conversion van with solar on the roof. Their company, Solarrola, builds a Solar Scooter and the eStar, a tall truck with standing room, converted from a delivery van.

One is now being driven by its owner from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America. It was featured in November 2018 in Mother Earth News under the headline: Solarrolla Inc.: Solar Powered Electric Vehicles. (The article can be accessed at bit.ly/2K9vhQy).

Future visions include a much bigger Sprinter-class van (capable of 300 miles per charge) and getting a raft of VW vans to convert. For this, they are looking to buy a home with big shop in Ashland.

Brett, an avid meditator, says he could launch Solarrolla into a big corporation, but he’s happy and loves his work as a personal adventure with time for family. The couple has two kids.

“We’re artists,” he says. “When I ponder things like that, I ask myself, ‘Is this going to make me happy?’ If all I do is just build these with my wife, I’ll be happy. ... I feel we’re contributing to something positive.”

Andy / Atkinson / Ashland TidingsBrett Belan is a 1997 mechanical engineering graduate of Michigan Tech and went on to work for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit and Jaguar in England.
Andy / Atkinson / Ashland TidingsWith plug-in charging, the VW bus can travel up to 600 miles a day, says Brett Belan.