Solar power car guy is just waiting for customers

Solar power car guy is just waiting for customers
The Brooklyn Paper / Stephen Brown

Finally, there’s a way to get around town without polluting or burning anything (or walking!).

The Beautiful Earth Group, a Columbia Street “green” energy company, has set up Brooklyn’s first solar power array for the express purpose of charging electric cars.

Too bad there aren’t many electric cars to take advantage of the cost-free, pollution-free, guilt-free service.

“I spend a lot of time [in the charging station] thinking about the sun,” said Lex Heslin, president of the company and, for now, the sole user of the clean charging station. “The sun is so far away, yet it powers my car. It still amazes me.”

Heslin owns an electric Mini Cooper. The charging station — which cost $25,000 and is fabricated out of two shipping containers — is only the 10th of its kind in the world.

Someday, such “filling” stations could be a model. Now, they’re a novelty.

Only a handful of electric cars are in use around the city, part of a tri-state area “fleet” of just 300, Heslin said.

And, yes, the power is free, but it takes three hours to fully charge Heslin’s Mini Cooper — so if you’re one of those people who feel that time is money, slo-mo refueling is probably not for you.

Heslin readily admits that the station, which is on Degraw Street between Van Brunt and Columbia streets, is only a pilot meant to get people talking. That’s why he’s offering the juice for free.

“It will show people you can collect enough solar energy to completely power a car in Brooklyn,” said Heslin. “There is an alternative to electricity that comes from ‘dirty’ sources like coal and nuclear.”

Heslin is part of a growing number of eco-entrepreneurs who are hoping to cash in on the coming American eco-revolution.

“It’s coming sooner than people think,” Heslin said confidently.

And he has a point. Nissan will unveil its electric-powered four-door Leaf next year, and BMW is closely studying its 500 electric Mini Coopers prototypes, one of which The Brooklyn Paper got to take for a spin earlier this year.

But for electric cars to become popular, several hurdles must be overcome. First, how do you charge a car that’s parked on the street, sometimes blocks from its owner’s home? And few people are going to want to string extension cords all over the neighborhood.

Still, electric cars are gaining steam, and Heslin’s charging station follows the same environmentally aware mindset.

The station produces no emissions and is built from mostly recycled materials that are easily transported (albeit by a gas guzzling truck, of course). To harness the fuel for his Mini-Cooper, 24 cutting-edge solar panels capture the sunlight, and that radiation is channeled into 40 batteries, which holds the power until Heslin plugs in his car — with a supersized plug that fits snuggly where the gas nozzle would normally go.

“You won’t see anything like this anywhere else in the city,” Heslin said.

Now, if he could only get some customers.