Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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The World Solar Challenge: Developing Cars for our Future

Solar Car

The World Solar Challenge: Designing cars for our future/

“The World Solar Challenge contest is primarily designed to find the world’s most efficient solar car and to inspire some of the brightest young people on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport!”

By Linn Smith

September 12, 2016—-The World Solar Challenge (worldsolarchallenge.org) is a solar car race that takes place in Australia every two years. Teams from universities, corporations and even high schools from around the world participate to promote research on solar-powered cars. The solar car race began in 1987 and in 2015 there were 43 teams from 23 different countries entering the race. The 30th anniversary of the race will be October 8-15, 2017.

The Solar Challenge

The Solar Car of the Future

Hans Tholstrup and the Solar Car

The idea for the contest came from Hans Tholstrup who was the first to navigate a solar car coast to coast across a country–Australia. In 1982 Hans Tholstrup, along with Larry Perkins, drove their solar car across Australia in 20 days. (See article, “The First solar Car to Cross a Continent”, Planet Earth Weekly, August 24, 2016.) The contestants in the World Solar Race are allowed 5kw hours of stored energy, which is about 10% of the necessary energy to make the trip across Australia, a total of 1900 miles. All other energy must come from the sun, or the kinetic energy generated from the motion of the vehicle.

The Solar Achiever

The solar car traveled 2500 miles in 20 days.

The Solar Car Race

Every two years the race starts in Darwin, Northern Territory in Australia and ends in Adelaide, South Australia. According to worldsolarchallenge.org, “Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm in the afternoon, where they make camp in the desert wherever they happen to be. All teams must be fully self-sufficient and for all concerned it is a great adventure – many say the adventure of a lifetime!” During the journey there are 7 mandatory check points where team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their own position in the field and perform the most basic of maintenance only, checking and maintenance of tire pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.

Solar race across Australia.

Building cars for our future!

The Solar Car Categories

There are 3 categories of solar cars. The Challenger class makes the trip in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide. The Cruiser Class is conducted as a regularity trial and the Adventure Class is a non-competitive class which consists of cars built for previous events.

Solar cars for our future

Driving Across Australia

The World Solar Challenge contest is primarily designed to find the world’s most efficient solar car and to inspire some of the brightest young people on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport! You can find the entry forms online on the Solar Challenge website. A chance of a lifetime!

The solar Car race

Entry in the solar car race.

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The First Solar Car to Cross a Continent

The Solar Achiever, 1984

The first solar car to cross a continent.

“Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun.”

By Linn Smith

August 24, 2016—-“Maybe one day we’ll all be driving around in solar-powered cars. And, if that happens, the names of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins will have a place in history. Without men like these, this would be a duller place. The spirit of adventure is not yet dead.”—Melbourne Herald News

The Solar Achiever

The solar car took only 8 months to build.

The Quiet Achiever

In Australia in 1982, Perkins and Tholstrup, wanting to popularize solar, built the first solar-manned car to cross a continent. With an attitude of, “There’s nothing that can’t be done,” they built the solar vehicle for about $50,000. The car, known as the Quiet Achiever, was designed in only 8 months. It was piloted by Perkins and Tholstrup who only stopped along the route at night to camp. In less than 20 days, the solar powered car made its trek from Perth to Sydney, traveling 2,500 miles from coast to coast across Australia.

The Solar Achiever

The solar car traveled 2500 miles in 20 days.

Using Only the Sun’s Power

The body of the solar car was made of fiberglass and the frame of steel tubing. It had a 1 kilowatt photovoltaic power system mounted on the roof that allowed it to travel approximately 14 miles per hour. Using only the sun for power, the two 12 volt batteries stored enough power to give the car about 90 minutes of energy without the sun. But on this trip there was enough sun to keep the car fully charged at all times. The solar car met with very few problems and was periodically monitored to assure that only solar power was being used.

The Melbourne Age newspaper stated at the time, “The journey of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins from Perth to Sydney in The Quiet Achiever will go down as one of the pioneering feats in history. Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun. It constitutes the fastest chapter in man’s learning how to co-operate with powers beyond his own–the sun!”

The Solar Achiever