If you wonder about the Solar future of vehicle transportation, this is where you should start. The World Solar Challenge has a great deal of innovation in the solar field as well as pushing innovation in efficiency and recovering electricity for electric cars.
In friendly competition with others attempting the same goals, the teams depart Darwin aiming to be the first to arrive in Adelaide, some 3000km to the south.
It’s all about energy management! Based on the original notion that a 1000W car would complete 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.
These are arguably the most efficient electric vehicles.
Having made the journey to Darwin by successfully navigating quarantine, customs, scrutineering, safety inspections and undertaken event briefings, participants are ready to start their epic journey.
The elite Challenger class is conducted in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide. Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm in the afternoon where they make camp in the desert where-ever they happen to be. Other classes have different requirements, but all teams must be fully self-sufficient and for all concerned it is a great adventure – many say the adventure of a lifetime.
During the journey there are 7 mandatory check points where observers are changed and team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their own position in the field. Here teams may perform the most basic of maintenance only – checking and maintenance of tyre pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.
There are also undisclosed check points which may be imposed by the event officials to ensure regulatory compliance.
Will a future Leaf or Tesla be solar powered? Probablynot any time soon, but slapping solar panels on top of electric cars can only help improve their efficiency, extend their range and rely less on the grid. If it is any indication how far we need to go, the Prius had a short lived solar panel that only cooled the car.