The world will be descending on South Africa to compete in a car race, the Sasol Solar Challenge. It is a race that brings a host of engineering disciplines together; a competition which nurtures innovation.
To win, teams ensure their solar cars are running at peak efficiency. They race over 2,500 kilometers (1553 miles), traversing a large swathe of the South African landscape.
2018’s competition will be the biggest Solar Car Challenge yet, with 15 international teams taking part. An encouraging sign for South Africa is that the number of local teams entering is steadily growing. The four South African teams participating in this competition are the Tshwane University of Technology, the North West University, the Central University of Technology and a team named Sonke.
The competition will start in Pretoria on 22 September and finish in Stellenbosch on the 29th of September 2018. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the challenge.
Sasol says the epic event tests ‘the limits of energy innovation’. The logistics of keeping a solar car running is one of the more challenging parts of the competition. One of the difficulties with solar panels is that with the obscuring of one panel, power from them all is lost.
The technical prowess of engineering teams will be realized as all the solar power must be limited to a four meter squared array of solar panels. The competition historically utilized six meters, but the engineering teams now have to show what they are made of with these new parameters.
Mechanical engineers and electrical engineers do a lot of the heavy lifting, but other fields of engineering are also part of the challenge to build the fastest solar powered car.
The Dutch Team, Nuon, is the reigning champion. They are flying down to South Africa to defend their title, but will be up against the South African teams on their home turf.
One of the South African teams the Dutch will be looking out for is North West University (NWU). They recently took part in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2017. They were the only African team to compete, and finished second in the Adventure Class of the competition. The Adventure Class is non-competitive and is more about the art of building a solar car, but they still managed to pull off a 2nd place win.
In 2014, they came fourth, but set the South African record for the longest distance in a single day. In 2015, they went to Australia and were one of two teams to represent South Africa. They became the first team in Africa to cross the finish line that year and were very proud to have beaten MIT. In 2016 they again participated and came fourth again.
In 2017 NWU, for the first time, used 3D printed parts for their new solar car build. This meant that any hobbyist who had a 3D printer could assist on the project. They are now taking - what they have called the Batmobile – to the Solar Car Challenge which kicks off in Pretoria in September.
The Sasol Solar Challenge director Winstone Jordaan said:
“The Sasol Solar Challenge inspires students to develop new technologies by creating a competitive environment. They contribute to core research on solar technology, including the manufacturing of solar cells, their casing, converters, controllers and electronics. The research done by solar teams has become invaluable to the energy industry.”
“Good Luck to Local Solar Car Teams! Students Prep for 2018 SA Solar Challenge.” Wheels, 19 July 2018, www.wheels24.co.za/News/Gear_and_Tech/good-luck-to-local-solar-car-teams-students-prep-for-2018-sa-solar-challenge-20180719.
“Solar Car.” Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2017 | Solar Car | Engineering | NWU | North-West University, engineering.nwu.ac.za/solar-car/bridgestone-world-solar-challenge-2017.