By Sasha Oelsner
Published: Friday, October 13, 2023
Some believe solar-powered electric cars are the final frontier in overcoming the need for fossil fuels and having truly sustainable transport on our roads.
But engineering a car that’s lightweight and versatile, while being completely renewable, is no mean feat.
Held from 22–29 October, the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge gives university students a platform to create a vehicle powered only by the sun.
Students from across the globe will charge into Adelaide after making the 3000km journey from Darwin in their futuristic vehicles – one step closer to a fossil-free future.
We went behind the scenes and spoke to one of the Adelaide teams to get the low-down on the challenge.
Meet final-year University of Adelaide students Nicholas, Ruby, Reily and Christian, who are leading the charge in the Adelaide University Solar Racing Team.
While this is the fourth time the University has entered a vehicle in the Challenger class, it’s the first time anyone in this year’s 25-person strong team has participated. Getting the vehicle ready is a two-year process, with many students juggling final-year assignments and exams, while dedicating hundreds of hours to improving the car.
The journey will take the students from Darwin, through the desert before – hopefully – reaching Adelaide and crossing the finish line at Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga.
What is your main goal for this year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge and what are you most looking forward to?
Nicholas: We want to keep the number one spot in Australia, but we are also aiming for the top 10 this year – and finishing.
Christian: We have focused heavily on durability because hopefully this will be the first year that the team crosses the finish line. Although The University of Adelaide came first out of all Australian teams in 2019, that was because we travelled the furthest through the 3,000 kilometres.
Christian: Fingers crossed we will make it the whole distance this year!
Reily: We’re all eager to meet the other teams and to see how they’ve solved a lot of the same problems.
How much room is there for innovation year-on-year?
Christian: Depending on funding, there can be a lot of room.
Ruby: We are using the same base car, but every subsystem can have a revamp.
Reily: I think a lot of technology over the years with the Solar Challenge has already been used in things like Tesla batteries, so we are working to improve on that.
Why do you think researching future technologies such as solar powered cars is important?
Ruby: Our car designs are chasing efficiency. The future of electric cars is pushing for more and more efficient transport. This competition is making electric, I don’t know, a bit cooler.
Christian: The World Solar Challenge is a good showcase of what the technology can do in a performance setting. I’m not sure that the future of cars will be solar, because as battery tech gets better, you get a bigger range.
Nicholas: A lot of the development in these kind of cars is really down to the batteries. Companies are looking to create smaller batteries that are more efficient and lighter. Eventually there’ll be a point where you can start increasing capacity of the battery while keeping the weight the same – or even shrinking the weight.
Ruby: Therefore, if you have solar at home, you will just plug into that to charge your electric car.
Nicholas: It’s also good to have a big group of engineers entering the workforce who are already focused on sustainability. We can take the things that we’ve learned from this, and then make sure sustainability is considered on all the things we make.
Join the journey
If you’re up for an adventure, there are plenty of volunteering options along the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge route.
Otherwise, follow each team’s progress online, and cheer them on when they glide over the finish line at Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga.
Solar at home
While electric vehicles (EVs) aren’t quite solar powered (yet), you can have the next best thing. If your house is powered by solar with battery storage, you can charge your EV at home with the power of our mighty Australian sun.
If you haven’t experienced the silent running of an EV yourself, book yourself a spot at the Solar World Challenge finish line from 27–29 October where RAA is giving you the chance to take one for a test drive.
With 10 different models to try and more on display, you’re welcome to test drive multiple vehicles. RAA’s Solar and Battery and EV Home Charging teams will also be on-site to answer all your questions.