In 1982, solar pioneer Hans Tholstrup and his team embarked on a quest that would see them drive their home-built solar car “Quiet Achiever” across Australia.
Inspired by this achievement and his own pioneering vision, Tholstrup urged others to explore the boundaries of sun-powered transport, resulting in the inaugural World Solar Challenge in 1987.
Since then two decades of solar car history has been created with the most notable international challenges held in the USA, Australia and Japan. Other smaller competitions have also been introduced in South America, Europe, and South Africa, and are growing in popularity year-on-year.
Over the years universities, vocational schools, and corporate teams have taken on the challenge. Using no more than six square meters of solar panels the teams are challenged to develop the most efficient electric vehicles possible.
Historically, university teams participated in order to give their students experience in designing and constructing high technology cars and working with environmental and advanced materials, while corporate teams participated to give their design teams experience of working with technologies paramount for electric and hybrid electric vehicles.
Today solar cars are complex machines that bring together the latest technologies from the renewable energy, aerospace and automotive industries. Most of the teams designing, building and competing are made up of university students.
In 2007 advances in battery and photovoltaic technologies as well as design maturity resulted in major changes to challenge rules, enhancing safety and limiting the ever increasing average speeds to 110 km/h.
Unlike most race cars, solar cars are designed with severe energy constraints imposed by regulations - limiting the energy used to only that collected from solar radiation, albeit starting with a fully charged battery pack.
As a result optimising the design to account for aerodynamic drag, vehicle weight, rolling resistance and electrical efficiency are paramount.
The cars test the ultimate boundaries of energy efficiency and provide incredible insights into the capabilities of everyday vehicle technology.
These innovations are at the heart of all electric cars, whether that power comes from hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid engines or even fully-electric commuter cars that draw power from solar cells on the garage roof – they all use the technology that is continually honed to perfection in these solar challenges.