Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Transportation Australia Power

42 Solar-Powered Cars Race in 31st Annual 'Solar Challenge' Race (engadget.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: It's a special moment in the history of clean energy: the 30th anniversary World Solar Challenge has begun. A total of 42 solar-powered cars (the largest field to date) left Darwin, Australia on October 8th to travel roughly 1,880 miles to Adelaide. The race officially lasts a week, but it's likely going to end considerably sooner for the front-runners -- the world record holders, Tokai University, took just under 30 hours in 2009...

This year, the race regulations are a clear sign of how rapidly solar technology is changing. Teams have to use a smaller solar collector than before: cars in the Challenger class can have no more than 43 square feet of solar cells versus nearly 65 square feet for the previous race, in 2015. That's half the area allowed on cars from the original 1987 race. In other words, technology is advanced enough now (both in solar cells and the underlying vehicle designs) that you don't need a sea of panels to keep a car running.

42 Solar-Powered Cars Race in 31st Annual 'Solar Challenge' Race

Comments Filter:
  • Next year in Finland (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nicolaiplum ( 169077 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:56PM (#55332611)

    I look forward to this race being run in Finland in October next year with the same winning criteria.

    Of course this is getting easier in late spring in a sunny desert. The success for real life usage will be when this works in a place with inclement weather and short days - like where most of the world's population lives for most of the year.

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:27PM (#55332715) Journal

      I look forward to this race being run in Finland in October next year with the same winning criteria.

      Uh-oh. I'm sensing a really stupid statement coming up..

      The success for real life usage will be when this works in a place with inclement weather and short days - like where most of the world's population lives for most of the year.

      And...there it is!

      Most of the world's population does not live "in a place with inclement weather and short days". Most of the world's population lives within 30 degrees of the equator. Finland is the anomaly, not Australia.

      http://www.slate.com/blogs/the... [slate.com]

    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      I can clear up your confusion by pointing out that this race isn't trying to prove "real life usage". These vehicles are glorified bicycle frames covered by an aerodynamic shell of panels. It's a race. Even so, the change in the rules demonstrate that solar panels have become much more efficient than even a few years ago which does have a knock on impact for the real world.

      Finland is hardly representative of much either. Even if Finland has crappy dark winters due to its latitude, it doesn't mean solar do

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      You seem to be labouring under the assumption that the goal is to develop solar powered consumer vehicles. It's not, it's to develop ultra efficient solar generation and propulsion systems.

      Kinda like how Formula 1 cars are somewhat impractical every-day-commute vehicles (single seater, little storage, crappy gas mileage, extremely fragile) but some of the technology filters down to more practical cars.

    • by tduff ( 904905 )
      And besides, it's a lot farther to Adelaide from Finland.
  • by scdeimos ( 632778 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:59PM (#55332627)
    The World Solar Challenge is supposed to be a biennial race held in the "odd years" but they've missed a couple along the way. 2017 will actually be the 14th race.
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:04PM (#55332655) Homepage

    I'm amazed by the speed. 1,880 miles in 30 hours is an average of 62 mph. I don't think I could drive that far, that fast, in a conventional car. Those solar teams are amazing.

    • They never have to stop to refuel and the speed limits are between 68 and 81 mph (more 81 than 68) for pretty much the whole way.

      10 years ago most of the highway they use had no speed limit at all.

    • It's a valid observation. In common circumstances the average speed is a lot slower than the maximum speed over a long stretch. I'm pretty sure that the situation here is optimal in this race in that there are as few interruptions as possible. I wonder if they have to stop for traffic lights.
      I also think that just to squeeze out a bit more speed the drivers are pretty good too.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        "I wonder if they have to stop for traffic lights."

        There's not a lot of traffic lights out there.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      They do stop for the night which I believe isn't added to the total time.

  • by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:31PM (#55332727)
    While impressive, these things more resemble aerodynamically shrouded electric tricycles than they do conventional automobiles. Not for the claustrophobic, the driver is practically wearing the vehicle more than riding in it. While, they do show the advancements in materials science and solar technology, The vast improvements in times probably has more to do with the vehicles getting much lighter, probably via carbon fiber and lithium batteries these days, vs much heavier materials 31 years ago, which probably has more effect on the range and speed than the power generation getting much better.
    • I was thinking the same thing. But there are apparently three classes of vehicles. Only the top speed racers are solar-powered cycles. The cruiser class, for instance, has vehicles that look like this:

      https://www.worldsolarchalleng... [worldsolarchallenge.org]

      Not exactly mainstream, but it's most definitely a "car".

      • I think it is the aerodynamics that count.

        Looking at the car, it has a fairly blunt windscreen and a pointy back. Which is exactly the opposite of modern fashion in cars with their blunt backs and very flat windscreens that make the car so hot you need air con on even moderately hot days, let alone the desert.

        • Check out this entry, which is pretty close to a perfect airfoil shape:

          https://www.worldsolarchalleng... [worldsolarchallenge.org]

          You'll notice how they describe other entries as prioritizing solar-receiving area versus aerodynamics. I'm curious to see how their entry performs, since they're focusing on prioritizing aerodynamics.

          Of course, modern cars have to actually be practical, squeezing into parking spaces, carrying an engine (or batteries), a trunks for hauling cargo, and seating for four passengers (typically). I don't say

        • by jecowa ( 1152159 )

          modern fashion in cars with their blunt backs and very flat windscreens that make the car so hot you need air con on even moderately hot days, let alone the desert.

          This is exaggeration, right? I don't think air friction causes much heat unless you're breaking the sound barrier.

          • Not air friction, the Sun. And it is not just the flux angle, as the glass reflects less IR at a steep angle. Ever wondered how we lived without air conditioning all those years? It was because of sensible design.

            • by jecowa ( 1152159 )
              Oh, I see. Windshields aren't as vertical as they used to be, so more sunlight gets shines in.
      • by I75BJC ( 4590021 )
        It looks like a big tricycle, actually. I couldn't find a description of it having 4 wheels and meeting the definition of a car.
        • The reason they are built as "tricycles" is it greatly simplifies the suspension and drive train. Having only three wheels is now banned in many of the races like this is because of a very bad accident when a solar car lost one of it's wheels while on an overpass. The car skidded out of control into the sidewall of the bridge, tossing the windscreen to the road below and injuring the driver. I'm not aware of any solar car race, or similar competition, that will allow a three wheeled vehicle since.

          That do

          • by torkus ( 1133985 )

            In the US (well, New York as every state is idiotically different in their traffic laws), they meet the definition of a motorcycle. 2 or 3 wheels is a motorcycle. 4+ is a car (or truck or etc.)

            With that said, I see no reason why one accident with a 3-wheel vehicle in a highly monitored competition would cause them to be more restrictive than normal traffic laws.

            • Why would one accident cause a rule change in a highly monitored competition? The answer is in the question, because a lot of people are watching.

              One goal of the competition is to get people on board with electric vehicles (solar power is one way to induce a limit on the electrical energy consumption) and having drivers getting injured is bad PR. Just generally people getting injured is bad PR when you have college students competing, doesn't matter if that competition is a spelling bee or football game.

              A

    • This team [worldsolarchallenge.org] actually claims their car is a "solar utility vehicle". Even has a charging outlet for a cell phone.

    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      Weight only matters for acceleration (and deceleration) and has very little impact on steady speed energy requirements. There's a minor consideration around increased rolling resistance due to weight but that can be addressed by minor changes to the wheels.

      In addition, if the cars are allowed batteries at all, then you recoup much of your energy if you have to slow down (car 'analogy': this is why hybrids get so much better fuel mileage in stop-and-go driving). So that further negates any weight penalties

  • I wonder if cars like the Tesla could use Solar panels on their roof to absorb Solar power to gradually recharge their batteries as they drive to make the battery last longer, and go further on long trips?

    • The biggest battery in the Tesla vehicles is 90kW/h, with 200 watts of solar panels on the roof of a vehicle left out in the sun all day might generate 1kW/h, or about 1%. Not enough to make a big difference. If electric cars were lighter and used less power it may make more difference.

    • Torque Pro estimates the power needed to keep my 1998 Audi A8 cruising down the road at 8-12HP. 8 HP is 6kw. You'd be hard-pressed to get 1kW on your car in the best case. That's not worthless, but until it's a lot easier and cheaper to accomplish, you can expect virtually all automotive solar use to be of the "solar sunroof" variety, which can run the blower fan and maybe keep a normal battery trickle charged. Panasonic has announced a 180W solar glass roof [electrek.co]; I'm guessing the panel on top of my (admittedly

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        "You'd be hard-pressed to get 1kW on your car in the best case"

        Typical solar cells as-is produce 200 watts in about 1 square meter. There's about 5 square meters of roof space on a Tesla and another 3 square meters of hood space and another 2 square meters of trunk space. Plenty of space to give yourself 2kWh every hour. Let's assume 10AM-4PM as our typical brightest sun range. 6 hours * 2kWh = 12kWh over that period of time, or a bout 12.5-ish%.

        I could put even more solar than that on my 98 Taurus, which

        • Typical solar cells as-is produce 200 watts in about 1 square meter.

          Your car is not made out of typical solar cells, and putting typical solar cells on it would make it look like a lego car. Your car is not oriented correctly to catch the sun, either. The panels will still work, but you will pay a noticeable performance penalty. When it's cheap and easy to put some kind of PV layer on your car that doesn't impact crashworthiness or pedestrian safety, then you will see it happen.

          • by Khyber ( 864651 )

            "Your car is not made out of typical solar cells, and putting typical solar cells on it would make it look like a lego car."

            Uhh, yea, no. You do know we live in the age of modular body components, yes? There are four companies I know of which produce aftermarket solar cell body panels, one's literally 18 miles down the road from me. They match the original contours and everything, with NO penalty. Oh, and I forgot the extra capacity of solar on the door panels, so let's add another kW total potential, there

    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      I think it would make more sense to embed solar panels in the access roads of car parks and above the parking spots themselves.
  • Maybe its just me being spoiled but I think it is a bit of a stretch to call many of those vehicle contraptions "cars."

    Still it is a great demonstration of engineering prowess. No question there.

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"

Working...