This past weekend, 42 car racing teams embarked on a 1900 mile (3000 kilometer) trek across the Australian outback as part of the World Solar Challenge. This isn’t your typical outback adventure with souped-up off-road vehicles, though. As you’ve probably guessed, the World Solar Challenge focuses on energy efficiency, with some of the best solar power researchers and car makers in the world taking part in the race. This year’s highlight is Team Eindhoven from the Netherlands, who set a family car world record by driving almost 930 miles (1500 kilometers) on a single charge
Hailing from Eindhoven University of Technology, Team Eindhoven is racing ‘Stella Lux’, a four-seater cruiser-style car of the future. Stella Lux is an energy positive car designed to generate more energy than it consumes during a calendar year. It has an aerodynamic and energy efficient design that includes a center tunnel to help with airflow and an extended roof that houses multiple rows of solar panels. Stella Lux also is an intelligent car, and provides weather based routing guidance (for optimal sunlight), touch screen controls, and intra-car communication that enables the Lux to interact with nearby vehicles in different ways — such as turning down the radio volume when an ambulance is approaching.
Participants in the World Solar Challenge are asked to travel as far as they can and as fast as they can without consuming a lot of energy. Each car is allowed to store up to 5kW hours of energy in an onboard battery with the rest of the energy coming from either solar power or the kinetic energy of the vehicle. As a result, these vehicles are among the most energy-efficient electric vehicles in the world.
Competition is tight in this year’s race, with two Australian teams and one American team leading the pack. The leaders are approaching the home stretch with a mere 11 seconds separating first and second place and 11 minutes from first and third. Final scores, which are based on velocity, person kilometers, external energy consumption and the practical use of the car, will be released after the race ends on October 25.