The 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge is set to be South Africa’s sixth solar car race. Taking place from 22 to 29 September, the eco-friendly event will see over 20 teams race their solar-powered cars from Pretoria to Stellenbosch.
Teams have entered from around the world, including current world champions Nuon, from Delft University in the Netherlands. Other teams will be travelling from Japan, China, India and Switzerland.
Locally, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), North-West University (NWU), Central University of Technology (CUT) and a combined team from St Alban’s College and St Augustine’s College will be entering the race.
More about the solar race
The aim of the race is to do the most mileage, not necessarily finish first. The route is not a simple road from Pretoria to Stellenbosch; it uses loops along the way which teams must repeat as many times as possible, racking up more kilometers using only the power of the sun.
Reigning champions, Nuon, completed a record-breaking 4716 km in the 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge. The top South African team from the last race, North-West University, completed 3524 km and placed fourth at the end of the challenge.
The 2500+ km solar race will force teams to contend with adverse weather conditions, bumpy road surfaces, reliability issues and wear-and-tear on their vehicles. The teams will travel with their own weather stations and equipment so that they can strategise as weather conditions change.
This year’s solar cars will be smaller and lighter
The solar-powered vehicles are only allowed to have four square metres of solar panels in this year’s challenge, down from six square metres in previous races. This means that the engineers need to deliver more power to the batteries from a smaller solar panel surface area.
The teams will also have to reduce the weight of their vehicles to maximise the power-to-weight ratio. New energy technologies will also be used to make this year’s vehicles more efficient and durable.
The solar energy industry benefits from the race
“The Sasol Solar Challenge inspires students to develop new technologies in a competitive environment,” says Sasol Solar Challenge director and founder Winstone Jordaan. “They contribute to core research on solar technology, including the manufacturing of solar cells, their casing, converters, controllers and electronics,” he explains.
“The research done by solar teams has become invaluable to the energy industry,” says Jordaan, adding that the race also serves as a way to bring solar technology into remote communities throughout South Africa.
The race makes solar technology cheaper and more accessible as new materials and configurations are developed. It is the perfect opportunity to showcase the innovation behind solar power and the capabilities of clean energy.
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