Solar power is evolving every day, and a solar car race across Australia is part of that.
There are dedicated scientists and businesses working to advance solar power technology and electric vehicle technology every day. In recent years, we have heard of all sorts of innovative solar technologies that are in development or have already hit market -- solar shingles, solar paint, printable solar cells, and increasingly efficient and cheap solar cells are a few things that come to mind.
Solar power technology has evolved a ton in the past few decades and it's projected that solar power will be cheaper than fossil fuels in a few years (not even taking externalities into account, such as the effects fossil-fuel-based electricity has on our health, environment, and economy).
Yes, most of these scientific advancements happen in labs away from the public eye and the whole testing and development process may be boring to most of us. However, there are some truly fun events connected with solar technology advancement that turn the process into something more like a sporting event and help to drive innovation at the same time.
World Solar Challenge in Australia
One such event is the World Solar Challenge in Australia. In the annual World Solar Challenge, the first of which was way back in 1987, people race solar-powered vehicles 1,864 miles across Australia, from Darwin to Adelaide. These vehicles use innovative technologies created by university and business researchers around the world, and a lot of these technologies actually end up making it into future cars and solar power systems to make them more efficient.
“To design and build a car capable of crossing Australia on the silent power of nature comprehends the most innovative research and development trends in alternative transport technologies,” the World Solar Challenge website states.
“The World Solar Challenge is one the most prestigious events of its kind and attracts the world’s best Technical Universities and Colleges.” Here's a little more on the history of the event:
This year's World Solar Challenge is going to be October 16-23. I'm looking forward to it, as are hundreds of journalists and who knows how many solar, clean energy, and racing fans? If you want to make sure not to miss it and keep up with updates leading to the event, you can register for email updates on the World Solar Challenge website.
This Year's Solar Challenge Winner?
One team worth keeping an eye on is the team pictured at the top of this page from Tokai University. This is the team's second time competing. It won in its first year, but it was using Sharp compound solar cells used in space satellites at that time and won't be able to this time around due to regulations changes. This year, though, the team is excited to be using Panasonic’s HIT (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer) solar cells and is hopeful it can win again.
"The silicone-based HIT solar cells, which demonstrate a high rate of conversion efficiency, are to be used for the first time in a race car," Charis Michelsen of CleanTechnica writes.
These solar cells "use a hybrid system; both sides of the crystal silicon substrate are coated with an amorphous thin film silicon formation. Since an amorphous formation is used, the HIT solar cells avoid the pitfall of most silicone-based products – a loss of conversion efficiency as temperatures rise."
Looks like a useful technology. Will Tokai University win again this year? We'll have to wait and see. (Or maybe a psychic octopus can tell us ahead of time.)