A pair of Canadian clubs are experimenting with SunRunner prototypes from Westhill Innovations. Solar-powered carts have been on the drawing boards for years, but have traditionally faced at least two major hurdles: the creation of a battery that can charge and discharge simultaneously, and the easily breakable nature of solar panels made of glass.
Westhill Innovations is fine-tuning its solar-powered golf cart, the SunRunner, after testing the prototypes last year at MontHill Golf and Country Club in Caledonia, Ontario, Canada and The Briars Golf Club at Jackson’s Point Ontario, Canada, the Hamilton Spectator reported.
“They contacted me last year to see if I’d be interested in the concept,” says Stu Bradshaw, the Golf Course Superintendent at MontHill, the 27-hole private club on rolling property just south of Caledonia. “It sparked my interest because the whole golf industry is trying to be sustainable going green and I thought it had the potential to allow more courses to get away from gas [carts] if it was as good as they said it would be.”
Gas carts produce polluting emissions, but electric carts traditionally haven’t been as efficient on hilly courses, the Spectator reported.
Solar-powered carts have been on the drawing boards for years, but have traditionally faced at least two major hurdles: the creation of a battery that can charge and discharge simultaneously, and the easily breakable nature of solar panels made of glass, the Spectator reported. Those issues now appear to be a thing of the past.
Westhill is the brainchild of former Dofasco employees Gina Succi and Emil Radoslav, inventors and entrepreneurs who focus on finding ways to reduce fuel consumption (and as a consequence, carbon emissions) through the creation of lighter and more nimble solar panels, the Spectator reported.
“One of the things I had always thought of doing was integrating solar into a composite, but solar technology wasn’t advanced enough,” said Succi. “All the panels were made of glass and glass doesn’t work well in a transportation application.”
But innovations, like solar panels made of film, changed that, and around 2017 Westhill began to work with engineering students at McMaster University on different applications, the Spectator reported.
The one they are most excited about is the possibility of using solar panels on the roof of refrigerated transport trucks currently powered by diesel engines, the Spectator reported. It was while doing this work that they stumbled on the idea of putting the panels on golf carts.
They had just created a small, solar-powered minibus when they asked themselves: “Now that we have this [panel] what are we going to do with it?” the Spectator reported. One of their staff joked, “we could cut it in half and put it on a couple of golf carts.”
And with that the SunRunner was born, the Spectator reported.
Westhill doesn’t make the golf cart, the Spectator reported. They use existing electric carts and add the solar technology, including a uniquely shaped roof which makes the vehicle resemble a race car.
“As far as day-to-day operating, they’re pretty simple,” says Bradshaw. “If you just let them sit out in the sun, they charge themselves.
“I used one myself once and the battery only dropped eight percent over the whole round. Without a doubt I could have sent that cart right back out, probably multiple times.”
That’s not the case for traditional electric carts, which need to be charged more frequently than solar-powered models, the Spectator reported. That means they’re off the course and out of commission while they’re powering up.
Bradshaw also sees another big upside in solar carts, the Spectator reported.
“If you have a full fleet of them, you can put energy back into your clubhouse, or your halfway house,” he says. “All you would need is a battery pack on the wall.”
Succi says that could be great for golf clubs in the winter months, when traditional electric carts aren’t bringing in any revenue but still have to be charged with power off the grid, the Spectator reported.
“What we have found through our testing is that they are almost completely self-sustaining,” said Succi. “They practically never had to be charged and the batteries themselves last longer. And the carts last longer.”
While all of this may sound too good to be true, for Westhill, it almost is, the Spectator reported. Golf carts, as a general rule, aren’t purchased by golf courses, they’re leased in fleets for three or four years. So a longer-lasting model isn’t necessarily an easy sell.
That’s the roadblock for Westhill at the moment, the Spectator reported.
“Right now we’re looking at our marketing strategy in the golf market and we’re talking to courses about next year,” says Succi. “It’s going to take one or two courses to get on this and then it’s going to take off and really go.”
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