The World Solar Challenge cars winning in practicality stakes

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

The Stella Vie solar-powered car, designed by students from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
The Stella Vie solar-powered car, designed by students from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Ever heard the one about the family car that travelled 3000 kilometres from Darwin to Adelaide while consuming just 64kWh of energy – when a typical modern car would use around 5000kWh?

No, it’s not an urban myth. The Stella Vie, engineered by students from the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology, came first in the Cruiser Class in the 2017 World Solar Challenge, and achieved these impressive stats in the 2013 event.

The Stella Vie, fitted with a 16kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a 1.5kW solar panel, has room for four passengers, can cruise at 70 kilometres solely off the energy generated by the solar panels, and can reach a top speed of around 125 kilometres.

It’s just one of the innovative vehicles that competed in the World Solar Challenge, one of the world’s leading showcases of solar technology.

The biennial event encourages design experts to engineer vehicles powered only by the sun, which are put to the test across some of the world’s most challenging landscapes.

This year’s event, which finished on 15 October, featured more than 40 teams from countries including Australia, the US, Netherlands, Japan, Belgium and South Korea.

Vehicles competed in three classes including the RACV-sponsored Cruiser Class, dedicated to cars that resemble everyday passenger vehicles as much as possible.

‘The way of the future’

RACV’s manager environmental sustainability, Simon Mikedis, says the organisation’s partnership with the World Solar Challenge is a perfect fit.

“Part of our role is to sustain long-term motoring and new technology and events like World Solar Challenge are a great fit because they showcase innovative design but also sustainability and the way of the future,” he says.

Race director Chris Selwood says the Cruiser Class was inspired by the team from Germany’s Bochum University of Applied Sciences, which has competed in the World Solar Challenge since 2001.

“As far back as 2009 the Germans have been keen on pursuing practicality with sustainability,” says Chris.

“The team from Bochum set out to made a car that wouldn’t necessarily be a chance at [finishing on] the podium in terms of speed – but it was a practical motorcar that the public would have an affinity with.”

The Arrow STF, designed by Brisbane's Clenergy TeamArrow, will be made commercially available.
The Arrow STF, designed by Brisbane's Clenergy TeamArrow, will be made commercially available.

Design and function

The Cruiser Class was introduced at 2013’s event. Entrant numbers in the category doubled in 2015 and doubled again this year, demonstrating to Chris that there is a thirst for solar-powered vehicles that emphasise design and functionality.

“The response to the Cruiser Class by entrants, sponsors and the public relates to the pushing of boundaries of technology to create sustainable vehicles.”

Entrants in the Cruiser Class are judged on a range of factors – none of which relate to the time it takes to complete the 3000-kilometre challenge. Instead, payload, energy consumption and the subjective element of ‘practicality’ determine a vehicle’s success.

“We want to give young designers the real-world experience of trying to predict what judges and customers – ultimately the end users – will find attractive and functional. ”This year’s Cruiser Class entrants included Brisbane-based Clenergy TeamArrow, which designed and constructed its Arrow STF vehicle as a ‘real car’ with road regulations in mind. The team will even make the Arrow STF available commercially in a limited run over coming months.

Both Chris and Simon say that while a future where millions of road users drive solar-powered vehicles may never eventuate, car manufacturers are incorporating solar technology more and more.

“In Japan and Europe the Toyota Prius now uses solar panels to charge the batteries,” explains Simon.

“Advancements like this are really utilising solar technology and making passenger vehicles more and more sustainable.”

For Chris, who uses an electric quad bike at home on his farm, the public demand for electric cars means positive things for the advancement of solar technology.

“There is a real demand for sustainable vehicles and constant advancements in this space – I can definitely see a day when we could all be driving electric cars.”

Written by Kathryn Kernohan
October 13, 2017