The 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge, set to take place from September 22 to September 29, will mark South Africa’s sixth solar car race.
The eight-day event will see more than 20 teams depart from Pretoria and finish in Stellenbosch. The awards ceremony is scheduled to take place in Cape Town on September 30.
Some of the world’s top teams are attending this year’s event, including current world champions and Sasol Solar Challenge title holders Nuon, from Delft University, in the Netherlands, and former world champions and Sasol Solar Challenge winners Tokai University, from Japan.
New participants in include teams representing City University of Hong Kong, from China, Manipal University, from India, and the Solar Energy Racers, from Switzerland.
The South African teams include the Tshwane University of Technology, North-West University, and newcomers Seilatsatsi from the Central University of Technology, as well as Sonke – a combined team from St Alban’s College and St Augustine’s LEAP School.
South Africa’s solar race is one of only a few countries where high school teams compete against tertiary level teams.
This year’s 2 500 km event promises to again test the teams’ mettle as they have to take into account the African sun, thunder storms, high winds, changing road surfaces and a drop in altitude of nearly 2 000 m to work out their vehicles’ power consumption. Teams often travel with entire weather stations of their own, as well as strategists who take make-or-break decisions as conditions change.
Taking advantage of loops in the route, which teams are allowed to repeat as many times as they are able to, top teams will clock close to 5 000 km during the eight days, using only the power of the sun.
Dutch team Nuon won the Sasol Solar Challenge in 2016 with a record-breaking 4 716 km.
The regulations for this year’s event have changed, however, making it tougher for teams to achieve the same distances that they did in 2016.
Cars are only allowed to have solar arrays of 4 m², where previously their arrays could be 6 m².
This puts significant pressure on the engineers to deliver power from a smaller array.
To do this, teams have to reduce the weight of their cars, as well as improve the energy technology.
North-West University, the top South African team in 2016, aims to match or better their result. They placed fourth, completing 3 524 km.
“The Sasol Solar Challenge inspires students to develop new technologies [within] a competitive environment,” says Sasol Solar Challenge director and founder Winstone Jordaan. “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.”
Jordaan adds that the Sasol Solar Challenge is a way of bringing solar technology into communities throughout South Africa, making it more accessible, while also serving as a practical demonstration of its capability.
Sasol has sponsored the solar challenge since 2012 as part of its commitment to furthering science, technology, engineering and maths education and inspiring learners to pursue technical careers.
Sun International is another supporter of the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge, and will provide assistance with venues and logistics.