Solar Car Race In Australia Lures 42 Teams

The World Solar Challenge is beginning to beat the drums for its 2011 competition, coming up in October, announcing this year’s competitors at an event in Adelaide, Australia, endpoint of the nearly 1,900-mile sun-powered dash across the Outback from the northern rainforest-outpost of Darwin. And you’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty cool race.

Forty-two teams from 21 countries will begin the race “under the blazing Darwin sun,” according to organizers. The solar cars competing are allowed a nominal 5 kilowatts of stored energy – 10 percent of the amount originally thought needed to go the distance in 50 hours. The rest of the energy to cover that wide, empty space must come either from the sun or from kinetic energy of the vehicle.

solar-powered car race, World Solar Challenge

image via World Solar Challenge

The first of these epic races was in 1987, and it has been held biennially since 1999. Competitors do, indeed, come to Australia from around the world. “From past winners and rivals, Japan and the Netherlands, to the million dollar Michigan contingent and our own Aurora, NSW University and SA Tafe teams, to those first time competitors from India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy and Korea, this event promises David and Goliath contests at every checkpoint,” organizers said.

The race might be a test of technology foremost, but smarts and cool decision-making on the fly are also required. “The World Solar Challenge is held in a single stage,” the organizers note. “Each team will travel as far as it can each day and camp in the desert each night. The exact progress is of course subject to the intensity of the sun, the condition of the road and whether there is any prospect of cloud. Shall we stop and recharge before we get to the cloud?  Use stored energy to get ahead of the cloud? Or run by the energy available?  Strategic planning and energy management are essential for success.”

By the way, you know this is a pretty gnarly event when the media kit includes this warning to press planning to cover it: “When travelling near Coober Pedy you will notice a lot of DANGER signs on the fence line. These signs are warning you that there are many deep mining pits present and if you were to fall into one you would never be seen again. DO NOT climb over any fences or wander far from the road, especially in this area.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Cadoges

    “Five kilowatts of stored energy”: Kilowatts is a measure of power, not energy.u00a0n”The rest of the energy to cover that wide, empty space must come either from the sun or from kinetic energy of the vehicle.”: This statement is a first law of thermodynamics ‘fail’. The vehicle can acquire kinetic energy only from the solar energy conversion. It doesn’t even get a free kick from gravity (gravitational potential energy conversion) because the start and finish locations are essentially at the same height (sea level).u00a0