Solar Butterfly touches down in Kingston to recharge

The Solar Butterfly tiny home trailer peeks out from behind the Tesla it powers with solar energy. Photo by Kingstonist.

If you happened by Kingston’s Springer Market Square today, you might just have noticed a very large butterfly taking a rest in the sun to recharge.

The Solar Butterfly project, as it is called, made a pit stop in the city Monday, Jul. 17, 2023, for about six hours to recharge its batteries. The butterfly-shaped trailer is a tiny home with foldable wings covered in solar panels. The team accompanying the butterfly took the opportunity to spread the wings and an assortment of alternate solar panels out on Springer Market Square to charge.

The solar panels power not only the tiny home, which is complete with a video studio, but also the electric vehicle that pulls it.

According to the Solar Butterfly website, Louis Palmer, a Swiss schoolteacher, left his job to inspire people around the planet to protect the earth. He was the first man to travel the world in a solar-powered car, visiting 38 countries. The notable tour captured the attention of millions, and he was named the United Nations Environment Program’s “Champion of the Earth” in Policy and Leadership for 2011. 

In 2022, Palmer developed the Solar Butterfly, a tiny home on wheels, with a team from the University of Lucerne; the plan was to drive it around the world, towed by a solar-powered electric vehicle, to raise awareness that solar power is a reliable resource.

Today in Kingston, the Butterfly was being piloted by a team of three: Kai, Max, and Noel.

The tour team for this leg of the Butterfly journey (L-R): Kai, Max, and Noel. Photo by Peter McKenty.

Kai explained, “We are traveling the world on solar power. We [travelled] across Europe all last year. We have been to Spain, to Greece, and all the way north to Norway, and basically every country in between.”

The team began the North American leg of the tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia, three weeks ago and stopped in Kingston today to charge their Tesla car, said Kai, “with help from extra panels we have outside and from panels on top of the Solar Butterfly.” 

In a Ted Talk about the project, Palmer explained the butterfly analogy, saying, “A butterfly starts its life as a caterpillar, quite ugly. That’s us, our society: we are eating up everything on the ground like petrol, coal, and gas. But the caterpillar can do the unthinkable — it can transform itself into something beautiful that becomes independent from the ground. What the caterpillar can do, we human beings can do, too.” 

“If we want to create attention for a certain project, we need the press,” continued Palmer. “We are planning to visit more than 1,000 projects in four years on six continents and create events with the local people, schools, political leaders, and the press. If we want to make it interesting, we need something that draws attention, something unique. The best would be a striking vehicle. So I decided to build a huge butterfly which is at the same time a role model for sustainable living. And of course, its wings will be covered with very efficient solar cells, so that it can drive with 100 per cent solar energy.”

The team taking a break in Kingston to charge the solar cells on top of the butterfly, as well as the extra panels they have along for the ride. Photo by Kingstonist.

“Climate change is a problem that concerns all of us,” said Palmer. “Every one of us has a choice of either being part of the problem or part of the solution. The whole world is full of solutions. It’s crazy that we have money for all kinds of things on this planet, but the solutions to stop global warming simply don’t prevail. We want to give attention to positive examples and raise awareness for all kinds of solutions. They need a breakthrough.”

Many interesting alternatives are explored on the Solar Butterfly website, including the solar-powered vehicle, agriculture with AI, hydrogen-powered ships, solar heat storage, fossil-free steel, and more.

The creator explained that the Solar Butterfly will make its final touchdown in Paris on December 12, 2025, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark multilateral agreement which hopes to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

The Solar Butterfly’s next stop is sponsored by the City of Toronto Environment and Climate Division, before it takes off for Boston, New York, and other North American cities.

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