The World Solar Challenge is a biannual competition that tests the limits of sustainable transportation. It’s a multi-day, 3,000 km race between 42 teams from across the world. I recently joined the University of Toronto’s Blue Sky Solar Racing team to document this adventure across the Outback.
Typically, competitors compete in the Challenger Class and need to complete the race solely on solar power and a small battery pack. Like Formula One vehicles, the solar cars are designed for efficiency and speed; they aren’t expected to be used for everyday commuting. Battling through the elements, mechanical and electrical breakdowns, team dynamics, and various road hazards, the teams attempt to complete the race safely and quickly. Toronto’s very own Blue Sky Solar Team performed well placing 8th in this class with its 4th vehicle entry in the World Solar Challenge, B-7.
This year, a new class of vehicle was introduced, which addresses the practicality of solar cars: the Cruiser class. This category of vehicle not only considers speed and energy efficiency, but also passenger capacity and overall practicality while allowing vehicles to charge at certain control stops. This new class could create significant headway in introducing solar powered cars for mainstream use.
The winning team in this class was from Eindhoven University of Technology with their car, Stella. The team drove the entire 3,000 km with an average of three people on board. Stella maintained an average speed of 67 km/h while only using 64 kWh of external energy and a 15 kWh battery. In comparison, the Tesla Model S (a fully electric four-door hatchback) is rated to drive 426 km on an 85 kWh battery pack.
This new class of vehicle combines super-efficient cars with everyday needs, and may indeed propel solar powered electric vehicles into the common realm. The design ideas from this competition have the potential to impact the design of everyday gas and electrically powered vehicles.
Now all we need is a wind powered car. O wait, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind-powered_vehicle.