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5 Reasons to Love Solar Car Racing

by Douglas Arrison on October 25, 2009

michigan-solar-car2009-thumbThis week 32 solar powered cars from 17 countries have converged on Australia’s outback to compete for the title of World Solar Car Champion.  The race, the “World Solar Challenge” takes place every two years – giving teams ample time to raise money, design, build and test their dream vehicles.  It’s a unique event and there are 5 reasons to love every part of it.

1. Sexy
The silhouette of a solar car has always held the public’s fascination.  The cars are so “space-age” and other-worldly they don’t seem real.  Their movement is powered purely from the energy of the sun – a wheeled creation that allures through it’s beauty and it’s brains.

2. Sophisticated
The top teams from around the world have one thing in common.  They realize from the outset that a successful solar car program requires a true blend of disciplines.  Take for example the University of Michigan solar car program.  Their program (see video and original post), involves a core of about 40 students with input from a total of 100-200 students.  It’s a truly interdisciplinary group with 50% engineering and 50% business, PR and support personnel.  Solar cars are expensive, demanding the highest quality components, so the business side has to raise huge amounts of money to allow the engineers to implement their designs.  Teamwork is paramount and these students are learning that lesson well.

3. Smart
The competitors consist primarily of major Universities from around the world.  The competition is fierce, but imbued with the collegiality and sharing that most of us can only remember whimsically from our college days.  This is what makes solar car racing so intriguing.  The sense of higher purpose, learning for learning sake, and genuine concern for others’ welfare all ties in with the common goal of seeking clean and efficient sources of energy.  In an increasingly hostile world, solar cars represent intellectual energy in its purest form.

4. Scary
Solar car racing is dangerous.  Driver safety is of paramount interest and all cars are fitted with state of the art roll cages.  Still, the sexy silhouette comes at a cost. A car that can reach speeds of 87 miles per hour using only the energy of a hairdryer, must be trimmed of all excess weight.  The “shell” of the car is precisely that – a thin carbon fiber sheet whose primary purpose is to house the solar array on it’s surface.  The wheels are slimmed down to reduce wind resistance, making them prone to blow outs.   Unfortunately, crashes are all too commonplace.  When you see the wreckage of a solar car crash you quickly realize how vulnerable drivers can be.

5. Sobering
This is a race we all have to win.

As the concern over climate change builds and the price of precious fossil fuels gyrate on the world markets, we are increasingly dependent on innovation for our energy security.  The World Solar Challenge is a catalyst for some of the planets brightest minds to think outside the box and apply those ideas to the real world.  These cars seem futuristic, and they are, but the future requires that we speed up our quest for cleaner energy cars, buses, planes and self-sufficient homes.  The students that have dedicated their last two years to these solar car projects all deserve our thanks, respect, and admiration for their advancement of technologies that will indeed affect how we live in the years to come.

Note: dasolar.com is a proud sponsor of the Michigan solar car, MIT solar car, and the Berkeley solar car.  Thank you for your creativity!

Race Updates: Follow our Twitter stream for updates on the race.  As of this writing, the Michigan solar car was in 2nd place and MIT in 6th after 1 day of racing.  Berkeley did not make the trip to Australia.

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October 25, 2009 at 7:25 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Asa Williams October 26, 2009 at 11:25 am

just one clarification. The body is generally made of a composite like carbon fiber and some teams use Kevlar in the mix as well.
As a former member of the Principia solar car team, the real world experience was the most valuable. It gave me an opportunity to use what I had been learning in my computer science and business class, and ultimately helped me with getting my first internship and jobs there after.


admin October 26, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Thank you Asa for the clarification. I updated the post accordingly.

I’m glad to hear your solar car experience at Principia was so rewarding and useful. Cheers to you and all your solar car alumni.


Gene October 28, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Your idea of climate change is foolish. It is all based on junk science You are playing into the hands of those who want to control the world.


admin November 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Gene, Junk science? Whether you believe the science or not, it makes sense to have an environment that is cleaner, not dirtier. Wouldn’t you agree with that?

Would you rather have your child going to school next to a coal-fired power plant or a solar power plant? Let’s just agree to concentrate on cleaner technologies. Everybody wins.


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