RS Components has pledged R1 million worth of products to support the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) efforts to develop a solar vehicle to participate in the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge. Now an annual fixture, the epic solar vehicle race furthers local research and development goals within the alternative energy space.
This year’s race spans eight days starting from the 27th of September in Pretoria and zooms through Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Colesberg, Graaff-Reinet, Port Elizabeth, Knysna and Swellendam, before rolling to a stop in Cape Town on the 4th of October.
Solar powered vehicles are rising dramatically in popularity and teams from universities and educational institutions around the world will partake in the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge.
Anatomy of a solar powered car
Solar powered cars are usually designed with distinctive shapes because the designers’ objectives are to minimise drag and car weight while maximising exposure to sunlight. In most cases, a vehicle’s solar panels generate about as much power as a domestic hairdryer, but advanced aerodynamics and lightweight materials can propel them past 100 km/h.
The solar panel on a solar powered car contains hundreds of photo-svoltaic cells converting sunlight into electricity. Unlike objects that also use solar energy, solar cars can use different solar cell technologies that often involve monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon and gallium arsenide.
The way solar cars gather and store power is a big issue. The solar arrays need to be enough to power the car, and a large battery pack is needed for the running of the car. A battery pack with enough storage to power the car from sunset to sunrise would make a solar car far too heavy, so the vehicle must be in the sun at nearly all times to be effective.
The information engineers have already gathered from building solar powered cars has guided their work in other areas. Technologies used in previous solar car challenges have made great contributions to the development of the new electric vehicles and hybrids on the road today.
Unlike regular cars, solar energy powered cars are able to utilise their full power at any speed. They are quiet, require very low maintenance and produce no harmful emissions.
Gentlemen, don’t start your engines
Brian Andrew, general manager of RS Components South Africa, is eager for the race to get under way and proud that this will mark the first time RS Components will participate in a local event of this magnitude. “We could not have chosen a better project to invest in, as research and development in the alternative energy space is very important for our environment and especially for a country like South Africa where electricity supply is a challenge and fuel is very expensive,” he said.
UJ’s project manager, Warren Hurter, summed up the enormity of the challenge facing his team: “The route is about 2000 km long, translating to roughly 250 km per day. Since this is a distance race instead of a speed race, teams will have the option to expand their daily distance by driving loops varying from 58 km up to 132 km. Loops can be driven more than once, which would give competitors the ability to travel as far as they can on a single day.”
Criteria on which entrants will be judged include technological and engineering expertise, average time and distance, average energy consumption and average battery usage.