Joshua "Sunshine" Hill stands in front of a solar-powered electric truck

Joshua "Sunshine" Hill stands in front of the Griff, a solar-powered electric truck, after traveling from California in it. Before he left, he added sand from a California beach to a glass jar. Months later, he and his dog, Capt. Ludwig, made it to the beach in Florida and Hill added more sand to his glass jar. 

Project Griffin, also known as Griff, stopped Sunday at Logboat Brewing Company. This commercial electric truck is the first in the world to complete a cross-country trip powered only from solar energy.

Driven by Joshua “Sunshine” Hill, the Griff began its cross-country trek at the end of May. Hill spent the first month finishing the customization process for the truck in Oregon. Once completed, Hill traveled to the coast of California, and from then on, he never charged the Griff with anything other than solar energy.

Hill traveled with his dog, Ludwig, a spaniel labradoodle mix who he affectionately referred to as Capt. Ludwig throughout the trip. The duo made it to Florida in early October. They didn't travel nonstop, but took several breaks along the way.

Throughout the journey, Hill regularly updated his progress and posted videos about how the truck worked on Awaken Solar's Twitter and Instagram pages

When fully charged, the Griff can travel from 80 to 100 miles per day, Hill said. On a cloudy day, the truck travels about 20 to 30 miles because it absorbs less solar energy.

The solar panels along the top and all four sides of the truck absorb energy as long as there is light. During the first and last hour of sunlight each day, the sun doesn't produce as much power, Hill said. As a result, he would park the Griff during the day and drive during evenings and early mornings.

Hill created his Idaho-based company, Awaken Solar, to educate people on solar energy, quitting his job in the solar industry to build the Griff. The original Smith truck that he bought was a 10-year-old electric box truck that had been used at a bakery in Los Angeles.

It took Hill six months to fully customize the truck so it was ready for his cross-country trip.

“My passion was in solar, but then I saw the potential to pair that with electric vehicles to just create this complete revolution,” Hill said. “And I wanted to prove the concept that we can do incredible things that we're not currently even trying to do with solar and electric vehicles.”

Trucks like the Griff could potentially power a home or serve as an emergency power source for a school, Hill said.

Smith Electric Vehicles is a Missouri-based company that built electric “Newton” trucks used by companies including Pepsi, FritoLay, FedEx and Staples, said former Missouri congressman, Russ Carnahan.

Carnahan traveled with Hill to Logboat Brewery from an earlier Sunday event at the Saint Louis Science Center.

Since completing the cross-country trip, Hill has been towing the Griff back to his home in Idaho.

Carnahan and Hill will now head to several Monday events in Kansas City, where the original Smith truck was made.

The event at Logboat Brewing Company was promoted by Renew Missouri, a nonprofit organization that has been working to “advance renewable energy and energy efficiency” within Missouri since 2006, according to its website.

James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, learned about the Griff from Smith Electric this past week. He hoped the event would give residents in mid-Missouri a chance to see the truck for themselves and learn more about solar energy. 

“When you look at the demands and the needs of this country, when you look at the demands and needs of our economy, a lot of this is going to be powered, pardon the pun, by these sources of energy,” Owen said.

Carnahan said that trucks like the Griff are the future. He thinks that Hill's trip shows how important solar energy is not only in transportation but for the infrastructure that goes along with it.

“I think people just need to see this is not a piece of science fiction,” Owen said. “This is not just an idea, this is the reality.”

  • Education reporter, fall 2020. I am a first year graduate student studying magazine writing journalism. Reach me at hgallant@mail.missouri.edu or on Twitter @GallantHannah.

  • Galen Bacharier is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. He has reported on higher education, state government and breaking news. Reach him at galenbacharier@gmail.com or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

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