energy transport

The World Solar Challenge comes of age

The World Solar Challenge wrapped up yesterday in Australia. It was won by the Dutch Team Nuon, for the third time in a row, with their dainty little solar racer Nuna 9.

The Solar Challenge is a race across Australia using only solar power – 3,000 kilometers from Darwin to Adelaide. Teams of engineering students design and race their vehicles over six days, camping along the way.

The Challenge has been held every two years since 1987, but this year feels significant to me. Previously, you could take a look at a ‘car’ from the solar challenge and admire it as an exercise in engineering, but little more. It was a fun and inspiring learning experience for students, good PR for the solar industry, and a useful peg to hang a bush hat on for the Australian Tourist Board. That’s now changing.

The last three events have included a ‘cruiser class’ in the challenge. Vehicles need to have four wheels and at least four seats. They’re expected to be practical cars. The winner of the cruiser class was Solar Team Eindhoven’s Stella Vie, which is to all intents and purposes a solar powered family car. (I wrote about it here) They even carried five people on the race to prove the point.

You can’t buy a Stella Vie just yet, as far as I’m aware. But another of the teams at the challenge, Team Arrow, are developing a commercial version of their racer. You can already pre-order the solar powered Sono. I suspect that by the time this event runs again in 2019, there will be a solar powered car on the market. After 30 years of pointing towards a theoretical future form of transport, it’s right on the cusp of becoming reality.

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