The car market has been so focused on battery powered electric vehicles that we’ve ignored another obvious energy source: the sun. The bi-annual World Solar Challenge was held in Australia last month, putting the latest designs in solar powered vehicles to the test. The challenge has been held every two years since 1987, featuring innovation in vehicle solar energy from engineering talent all over the world.
The competition is divided into three classes: Challenger, Cruiser, and Adventure. The Challenger Class is filled with visually stunning, single-seat, aerodynamic style cars that are built for sustained endurance and total energy efficiency. The Cruiser Class is for multi-person vehicles, while the Adventure Class is a non-competitive class providing opportunities for cars built for past events to race.
The vehicles in the Challenger Class have a small solar collector area (max of 4 m2) and a greater design envelope which allow for a greater car design variety (max 5 m in length and 2.2 m in width). The cars have to travel 3,000 meters from Darwin to Adelaide, with rest camps in between. The cars can start with 5kW of stored energy, and all other energy must come from the sun or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle. The teams have until 5 p.m. everyday over seven days to make it to Adelaide.
The winning car, Nuna 9, came from the Nuon Team from TU Delft University, which is located in the Netherlands. This is the Nuon Team’s third straight win and its seventh out of eight entries. The max speed for the team was 81.2 kmph, or 55.5 mph. The winning time was 37 hours, 10 minutes, and 41 seconds.
Team Manager Sander Koot said they had to change driving strategy and style due to the weather conditions, which included wind gusts of up to 60 kmh. They positioned the car so it could benefit from the windy conditions, acting like a sailing ship. In second place, was the University of Michigan with its car, Novum, and in third was Solar Team VSW from Belgium with the Punch Two.
The Cruiser Class is where real-world innovations were put on display. These vehicles are intended to be the bridge between modern solar technology and everyday driving. Ruhr University Bochum’s Thyssenkrupp Blue Cruiser was the first to arrive on the seventh day with a stylish four-seater classic coupe. However, it was another Dutch team that won the overall championship. The Eindhoven team’s Stella Vie was crowned overall champion based its design, practicality, energy efficiency, and innovation. The Stella Vie can carry five people at an average speed of 69 kmph.
“These incredible solar cars have been designed with the commercial market in mind and have all the features you’d expect in a family, luxury, or sporting car,” said Event Director Chris Selwood. “[The Stella Vie is] clearly the most energy efficient solar car in the field, capable of generating more power than they consume.”