How to move at the speed of light


Over the past decade, the number of vehicles in China has doubled every three years – from 5 million in 2000 to over 80 million in 2011. If this continues, China will have an extra 400 million cars by 2020. That’s four cars to every 10 people – the current level of Western Europe. These extra cars will need fuel, but the rate at which new oil fields are being discovered has been insufficient to meet demand since 1980. Preparing for an energy crisis, China is now the world’s largest producer of solar panels. But it was in 2003, looking up at Guangzhou’s solar-powered streetlights and down at the cars on the road, that inventor Chen Shengui decided to solve the transport problem himself.

81_solar_car_illus1“In the very beginning, I took my watch apart and put it back together. Then I did the same to the family clock. Disassemble, reassemble, over and over again. My parents were peasant farmers and I knew I needed skills to break away. At 27, I began paying a master in the village to teach me about radios. Eight to 10 o’clock every night. I would go no matter how cold it was.

“When I was little we only had a single-wheeled handcart. Now at least half the families in our village own a car. Soon, every household in China will have one. Transportation already consumes a great deal of our resources, but I saw the solar-powered streetlights in Guangzhou and they inspired me. If streetlights can be powered by the sun, so can cars.

If streetlights can be powered by the sun, so can cars.
Chen Shengui, 54, Jiangjiang, China

“My neighbors all laughed. They didn’t believe I could do it. I spent two or three years preparing before I even began work, but building still took 13 months. There were over 10,000 parts. I failed all the time, but I have something like a super-natural ability: I can solve problems in my dreams.

“I first drove my solar car in March 2008, and people gathered together to see, blocking the street. I drove past a two-kilometer queue of drivers at a gas station. They stopped me and said, ‘Please put your car on the market soon; we can’t afford the oil.’

“I have to tell the truth. My car is illegal. According to regulations, I’m not even allowed to make cars. And if I drive my car and hit someone, I cannot provide a license. Now, the government is proud of what I’ve achieved, though I never received a penny in subsidy. I put almost all my money into the car. But in the future, I believe my country will support me. I’m sure of it.

“This car is the first of its kind. It’s a witness to history. Solar cars are a revolution comparable with the steam engine or computers. Some people love gambling, some play cards. I don’t. This is what I like. Building my own car is meaningful. Every time I solved a problem, I improved myself.”


From the pages of COLORS #82 - Shit.