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Will solar powered cars ever be real?

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One Step Off The Grid

Every two years around 40 solar powered cars race 3,000 km across the Australian desert from Darwin to Adelaide in the World Solar Challenge  (WSC).

For years this has been a showcase for solar car racing and an opportunity for Electric Vehicle (EV) manufacturers like Tesla to meet the international teams, see the cars up close and snap up the brightest young engineers in battery pack development, systems and aerodynamic engineering.

2017 the year of the Cruiser

This year things are different. On the weekend of 14-15 October, nearly half the entries of the 40 cars contingent that cross the finish line in Adelaide’s Victoria Square will be in the Cruiser Class category.  This class has doubled since 2015.

The Cruiser Class requires the car to seat at least two occupants and be closer in design requirements to the every day car.

Hong Kong Institute’s 2017 entry - IVE Sophie (images from WSC team’s page)

Hong Kong Institute’s 2017 entry – IVE Sophie (images from WSC team’s page)

If you want an energy efficient family car, the Stella Lux, designed by Dutch team Eindhovenhas plenty of room for 4 plus luggage space for a fuel free European vacation. Solar team Eindhoven are responsible for the Light Year One vehicle further down this article.

Where did the Cruiser class idea come from?

Two teams, Tafe SA and Bocham from Germany have been entering cars with two seats for around 10 years and were probably responsible for the idea behind the Cruiser Class.

Tafe SA (South Australia)

Tafe SA (South Australia)

Bocham vehicle evolution can be seen with their 2007 to 2017 entries. The 2017 entry is called the Blue Cruiser.

Bocham vehicle evolution can be seen with their 2007 to 2017 entries. The 2017 entry is called the Blue Cruiser.

Australia’s got talent.

This year there are seven Australian entries in the WSC (4 cruiser cars) with Clenergy, Tafe SA, University of NSW and Flinders University, entering cars with two seats.

Adelaide University, Western Sydney University and Australian National University are entering the more traditional ‘flat’ single seat solar cars that can be seen on the WSC team list.

University of NSW’s solar team Sunswift with last year’s entry eVe. The Sunswift team has designed and built Eve to comply with Australian ADR requirements so it can be registered as a be a road legal sports car.

Clenergy’s Team Arrow 2017 Cruiser Class entry below.

Clenergy’s Team Arrow 2017 Cruiser Class entry below.

cleanenergy-crusar-

Flinders University 2017 entry proposals and is entering the race for the first time.

Flinders University 2017 entry proposals and is entering the race for the first time.

And while we’re on Australia’s talent, below is an image of the 1982 Australian  Quiet Achiever built by Larry & Garry Perkins and Hans Thostrup.

They crossed Australia from Perth to Sydney at an eye watering speed of 23km/h but succeeded in inspiring young engineers to follow their dreams.

solar-cars

OK, SO WHERE WOULD YOU GO TO BUY A CAR THAT YOU COULD DRIVE ON THE ROAD?

The Sono Motors German crowd funded project will take your order starting at 10,560 Euros (AU$15,550 approx.).

Their site suggests battery range of around 250 km and around 30 free km from the sun per day. It’s a small four seater city car that looks very practical.

sono-motors-german-car

Light Year One, designed by the successful Dutch Eindhoven team will take your order for 119,000 Euros (AU$175,000 approx.). with a battery range of 400-800 km.

Their website shows veiled images of the car under development which looks great and looks like it may take two adults in the front and two smaller adults in the back see image below.

hanergy-chinese-solar-pv

Hanergy , the Chinese solar pv manufacturer have built at least four prototype cars, with their website suggesting around 80 free km per day from the sun and a range of around 350km from the battery pack.  But no shopping cart just yet to take your order. Below

hanergyOne more Australian offering is the Immortus from EVX Ventures who are developing components for solar cars including: drive systems, regenerative shock absorbers and battery technologies for solar cars.  Below

venturi-ev

Venturi is an interesting company to look at. They have a car in the Formula E races and have been building a number of solar electric cars for many years. My favourite is one of their older cars, the Astrolab below.

solar-car

And with two seats and no roof, the author of this article has a ‘build your own’ project with images on Instagram at dwoodgrove and a video here Tanami or use the link https://tanami.solar/

tanami

David Woodgrove has been following the WSC solar car racing since being involved with the Aurora team back in the 1990s. He works in the renewable energy industry after many years of working in product design and engineering fields.

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.  

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  • Sally Noel Triggell

    One can only dream of what the quite achiever could do now with improved technology. I bought my first solar panels in 1992 Solarex with 8% efficiency. Have just bought Sunpower E series panels at over 20%. That’s a huge improvement in 25 years. ICE can only dream of such gains.

  • Mike Dill

    The best commercial EVs, for wh per mile, are still in the 200wh to 300wh range. I suspect that the custom units are in the 50 to 80 watt hour per mile range, as you can get better aerodynamics and a much lower rolling resistance. Going slower always helps.
    If you want to go 60mph (as an example) you need about 2kW per hour of travel. At 100% efficiency and 1kW per m2, that works out to 12m2, or an area of three by four meteres. That works as long as the sun is shining directly overhead. Triple the size of the array and add batteries if you want to run at night or when it is cloudy.
    Current solar efficiency is nowhere near that 100% target. Add batteries and a charging infrastructure, and you can go a long way.

    Question: What is the record for someone doing that course in a BEV?

  • George Darroch

    I can’t see a full size vehicle ever being solar powered. I could however imagine a solar-assisted vehicle, where panels provide a nice extra boost.