The world’s biggest solar-powered car race just started in Australia
The world’s largest solar-powered car race just begun again in Australia, and this year’s event marks its 30th anniversary. Just like every other year, solar-powered cars will race from Darwin, Australia to Adelaide on the other side of the continent. That’s 1,878 miles using only the power of the sun.
Thirty years after the first solar-race began, the cars are much faster, and there’s more of them too. This year, a total of 42 cars have entered from three different categories: The Challenger class is by far the most advanced and rapid group of cars, while the Adventurer class represents those non-competitive entries that are just a little too slow. Finally, the Cruiser class consists of vehicles designed for efficiency rather than flat-out speed.
Like any competition, the World Solar Challenge has also been a battleground for technology development, with each team trying to get a competitive edge against its rivals. And that means the technology involved in the challenge has progressed considerably in the past three decades.
In 1987, teams were given a whole week to complete the challenge, but in 2009, the winning team completed the race in just 30 hours. What’s more, as solar panel and motor efficiency has increased, new regulations have been brought in to maintain the “challenge” of the race.
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According to Engadget, cars in the Challenger series can have no more than 43 square feet of solar cells this year. That’s 20 square feet less than 2015’s cars were allowed, and half of what competitors were allowed in 1987.
Who cares about solar-powered cars?
Solar-powered cars might be the stuff of 1990’s sci-fi novels, but in 2017 they seem to be a little – irrelevant. After all, EVs like the Model 3, Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe are proving that modern batteries can carry enough energy for days of normal driving, without the need for solar panels.
However, the solar-powered car might be making a comeback, but not in the way we thought. Just a few months ago, Audi unveiled plans for a new sunroof that will help extend the range of EVs. The sunroof won’t power the entire car, instead it’s to just power auxiliary systems like the A/C – but it does show we’re not quite done with solar power.
You can track cars in the race here