The World Solar Challenge is a race across the centre of Australia, conceived in order to explore the boundaries of solar-powered transport. Competing teams must design and build their own vehicles, before braving the 3,022km journey from Darwin in the North to Adelaide in the South, relying on speed, strategy and solar energy.
The challenge was inspired in 1982 when Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins drove their self-built solar car Quiet Achiever from the West to the Eastern coast of Australia. Five years later, the challenge was officially inaugurated, with sponsorship from the South Australian Tourism Commission. Since then the event has continued to grow in stature, showcasing the development of advanced automotive technology and promoting energy efficient alternatives to conventional engines.
Many renowned engineering institutes and universities have formed teams to compete in the World Solar Challenge over the years - including Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, TU Delft and for the first time this year, a German team consisting of students from RWTH Aachen University and Aachen University of Applied Sciences.
Energy management plays a key role in the challenge, with the cars permitted a nominal 5kW hours of stored energy, based on the original estimate that a 1,000W car would be able to complete the journey in around 50 hours. All additional energy must come from the sun, or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle.
On the way, teams will make camp at the end of each day, demonstrating total self-sufficiency and preparation for the hardships involved. Not for nothing has the World Solar Challenge been described as the adventure of a lifetime. A number of mandatory check points are in place to ensure competitors complete the route, and to give them an opportunity to perform basic maintenance, gather information about weather predictions and find out their current position in the field.
In addition to promoting the creativity of the competing teams, the World Solar Challenge is a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved with solar energy. The fastest cars in the challenge have reached speeds of up to 90 km/h, and the technologies utilised in the event have found significant real-world application in modern hybrid and electric vehicles.
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2017 takes place from 8-17 October 2017, starting in Darwin in the Northern Territory and following the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta, then via Highway 1 to finish in the City of Adelaide in South Australia.
Farnell element14 will be supporting Team Sonnewagen Aachen - the first German team ever to compete in the event - by providing equipment and components to assist in their vehicle build. You can follow the progress of Team Aachen right here on the element14 community, or via their official website.