The Sun Powers Plants and Transit at the Chicago Botanic Garden

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Plants at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe rely on the sun and now a visitor shuttle does too.

At a time when not many flowers are left in bloom, the garden is enhancing the ‘green’ environment with a neon green vehicle boasting the distinct look of a bug. 

This solar-electric shuttle transports Chicago Botanic Garden visitors to the new plant science center.This solar-electric shuttle transports Chicago Botanic Garden visitors to the new plant science center. Hearing of the garden’s eco-friendly Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, botanic garden member Larry Spatz decided to take the opportunity to donate a solar-electric transit made by his firm, the Solar Electric Vehicle Company. His company just launched a program this summer, called Free EV, that connects parks and recreational facilities with sponsors who donate the solar vehicles. In this case, Spatz is the sponsor.

“He thought (the solar-electric vehicle) was perfect and appropriate for the garden,” said Julie McCaffrey, spokesperson for the Chicago Botanic Garden. 

The garden is using the vehicle to transport people from the visitor’s center to the new science center, which is a half-mile away.

Larry Spatz opened his solar vehicle company four years ago in Northbrook. His partner, Bob Kopach, said the company’s primary business is to sell transportation systems. Spatz started the company because he is passionate about the environment and developing technology to promote the environment.

These 14-passenger service vehicles use a combination of solar-power and electricity as an alternative to the typical large, heavy gas-guzzlers that recreational facilities tend to need.

The solar-electric transporters have solar panels on the roof that allow it to run directly on solar energy. They also have two batteries that store electric power, which serve as a backup. Combining solar energy with electric energy also allows for a 33 percent extension of battery life, according to the solar vehicle company. On fully charged batteries, the shuttle can travel 60 miles.

“When the sun is out, it is running on just solar. But then we plug it in at night so that we can get it charged for cloudy days, said Carol Peckman, 52, solar-electric shuttle driver for the garden. "But we are running on 100 percent solar power today.

"The vehicle is not just filling a need. It has also become somewhat of a talking point as people who frequent the garden often refer to it as "futuristic."

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