Aside from their ability to carry a passenger, solar cars have almost nothing in common with on-road vehicles than they do with the vehicles we drive to work, school, and play every day.
This year’s Australian Solar Challenge has modified the rules somewhat in order to bring the challengers a little closer to real-world application. The science involved is stunning, but unless it can be shown in vehicles more like those already on the road, the solar cars built for the Challenge remain but a lab experiment.
With the number of vehicles on the road rising every day, some one billion already, the automobile market is in dire need of innovation that meets our transportation needs and increases efficiency. The more efficient our vehicles are, the less fuel we’ll burn, and the less pollution and greenhouse gases we’ll be pumping into the atmosphere. Could a solar car change all that?
The rules for the Australian Solar Challenge require that each solar car use no more than 6m2 of solar panels and 5kWh of backup power, and no other fuel. The first one to get from Darwin to Adelaide, 3,000km North to South, wins! This year the rules have changed slightly to require more conventional features, including four wheels and exterior lighting.
Cambridge University’s Resolution is just one of 47 teams competing in this year’s Challenge, and their solar car isn’t anything you’d want to take on a family outing, at least not yet. The Resolution is too high and narrow and carries a single passenger, but the things learned from attempting to make the most efficient four-wheeled car should go a long way to improving the efficiency of electric [and possibly solar?] vehicles in the future. The Resolution is named after the HMS Resolution, which explored the oceans in the 18th Century, setting a record as the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle, in 1773.