Solar Golf Carts Run A Week Between Charges

The greenest way to make your way around a golf course? It’s got to be walking. But not everyone is willing or able to do that, so this method, recently deployed at the Citrus Hills Golf & Country Club in Florida, might be the next best thing: using carts powered by thin-film solar panels.

Gulf City Solar in Bonita Springs, Fla., installed the lightweight panels on the Citrus Hills fleet of 125 carts, and they’re in use at other courses in Central Florida as well. The company said the thin-film panels weigh just nine pounds, a small fraction of the 60 pounds that traditional panels can check in at. With a proprietary power-management system also trimming weight, the company claims vast efficiency gains with its carts. Plus, retrofitting a cart with these panels doesn’t require replacing the roof.

thin-film solar golf carts, Gulf City Solar

image via Gulf City Solar

“The solar systems result in substantial savings on electricity, reliability on the courses and longer battery life,” Gulf City Solar said. “Because the sun charges the batteries while the carts are on the course, stranded golf carts due to battery depletion are practically unheard of.”

Electric carts are common on golf courses, of course, but they have to be plugged in overnight for battery charging. Not so with the thin-film carts. At Citrus Hills, the carts are plugged in once a week, but other users have done even better. “We charged it only a few times during the whole period,” said David Gillespie, general manager of Pelican Nest Golf Club in Bonita Springs, which has been using the carts for three months.

By avoiding depletion, Gulf City Solar said its “product significantly slows battery aging, easily doubling battery life.” And the company has even bigger plans: “We are in the process of rolling out solar-powered electrical utility vehicles with extra solar panels that enable them to go much farther than 60 miles on a charge,” William Heckenstaller, a principal partner for the company. “They can be equipped with 12-volt chargers that can run power tools on the golf course.”

It all sounds great, but one does wonder what might happen to these thin-film panels if a golfer gets a hole in one.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.