The World Solar Challenge is a competition that seeks to inspire some of the brightest young minds on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport by designing the world’s most efficient electric car. The sun-powered vehicles compete in a 3,000 kilometer (1,864 mile) race across central the desert of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. This year’s race on October 18-25 was the biggest to date, involving 46 cars from 25 countries and sponsored by Bridgestone.
In 1982, solar pioneers Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins, journeyed from west to east Australia in a home-built solar car named Quiet Achiever. Motivated by this feat, Hans urged others to explore the boundaries of sun-powered transport, and the first World Solar Challenge began in 1987 with the help of the South Australian Tourism Commission as a sponsor.
The World Solar Challenge continues to highlight the progress of energy efficiency and promote alternatives to conventional vehicle engines, often influencing the technology in electric cars. Teams from top universities develop the most energy efficient vehicles possible using no more than six square meters of solar panels, and come together every two years to see whose solar vehicle will win the race in one of the world’s harshest environments.
Based on the calculation that a 1000W car would finish the journey in 50 hours, solar cars are allowed a nominal 5kW hours of stored energy, which is 10% of that theoretical figure. All other energy must come from the sun or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle. Once teams have started the race, they travel as far as possible until 5pm, where they then make camp in the desert and must be fully self-sufficient.
To showcase the diversity of solar EVs, this year’s competition included three distinct classes of vehicles: the Challenger Class, Cruiser Class, and Adventure Class.
Cars in the Challenger Class are aerodynamic, visually stunning masterpieces built for sustained endurance and total energy efficiency. These cars are smaller vehicles that carry only the driver and are timed in a single stage between the two destinations. They must travel the full length of the race with just one charge of their battery. Solar power provides the rest of the energy needed to power the vehicle’s trip. Reigning Dutch champions Nuon Solar Team won the Challenger Class competition with Nuna8, finishing the race in 37 hours 56 minutes to claim its sixth World Solar Challenge.
The Cruiser class was introduced in 2013 to bridge the gap between high end technology and everyday driving practicality. Contestants in this class are timed in two stages, from the starting line in Darwin to Alice Springs (the half-way point) and then again from Alice Springs to Adelaide. Once contestants in this class reach the midway point, they can recharge their batteries from the grid. However all extra energy needed to power the second half of their 932 mile journey must come from the sun.
With a time of 48 hours and 7 minutes, the Japanese Kogakuin University team finished the race first with OWL. However the competition also included scores based on the key criteria of solar kilometers traveled, passenger kilometers, speed, energy efficiency, and a subjective element of design and practicality. With a score of 97.77%, Dutch team Eindhoven took top honors with their four seater family car Stella Lux just edging ahead of Japan’s Kogakuin University with an overall score of 93.92%.
The Adventure Class allows cars built for previous editions of the event that do not comply with the latest requirements to compete again, usually with new team members. This class is also run in two stages with an overnight stop in Alice Springs. The US team of Liberty Christian School of Fort Worth, Texas finished the race first in 45 hours and 37 minutes with Solis Bellator, while the Houston Solar Car team had the most solar car distance, 2,795 solar car kilometers or 1,736 miles, with Sundancer. Sundancer is the first high school vehicle to complete and win the World Solar Challenge Adventure Class.
We love that the World Solar Challenge encourages creating innovative designs for a more sustainable future! We can’t wait to see how the designs, energy efficient technology, and practical features become part of mainstream motoring.