The cities of Eindhoven, Enschede and Delft can all be proud of the supreme efforts made by their respective Technical University Teams nearly 15,900 km away from home. Teams from 30 countries took part in the 3022 km World Solar Challenge race from Darwin to Adelaide, Australia this past week.
In fact, this event which takes place every two years, is much more than a race. The Dutch student teams take a year off their studies to understand how to turn a theoretical design into a real solar car. And some have found the experience so rewarding, they plan to turn their knowledge into a high-tech start-up. Because with the arrival of Tesla Motors in Tilburg and several high-tech companies specialising in secure communications, there's a buzz developing in this part of Europe around automotive. And with the highly publicised problems facing legacy car makers failing to meet emission standards, there's a growing public interest in vehicles that are actually energy positive.
This time, teams from the Netherlands came away with the three main prizes. Here are the details.
The CSIRO Innovation Prize
The University of Twente was awarded the CSIRO innovation prize. Dr Glen Platt, Energy Research Director at CSIRO Judge said, "It is customary that the scientific faculty recognise and honour new ways of doing things. In the trip down from Darwin, our team was able to observe many cars with superb engineering and design. This ranged from carbon fibre bodywork to wiring and layout of the car itself. We also saw breakthrough innovation which included a Coke-bottle evaporative cooling system and solar-driven route planners which coupled real-time weather information so as to make the maximum of use of every ray of sun. I hope we can encourage many more of these kinds of developments in the years to come. But one team combined what we thought was great novelty with fantastic execution. The 2015 World Solar Challenge Innovation prize goes to the University of Twente for its solar array balancing interface – maximum power point tracking system."
During the rest-point moments during the race, the "Red One" car team from Enschede orientates the car so the solar panels are exactly at right angles to the sun. In previous years, Twente removed the solar panels, placing them on an adjustable portable stand next to the vehicle. This year the rules have changed so that the panels and the chassis had to remain connected. So they devised an adjustable mirror to ensure the maximum sunlight capture reaches the solar arrays.
The Cruiser Class
Solar team Eindhoven get inspected – Photo by Bart van Overbeeke
2015 is only the second time the Cruiser Class has been part of the World Solar challenge. The Australian organisers managed to double the number of entries to this very difficult category. They were also tremendously excited to get the support of Elon Musk's Tesla Motors for judging the Cruiser Class. Success in this particular class is a combination of speed, endurance, the work done (the number of passengers carried) and the external energy inputs. This year was an incredibly close race with 5 of the 7 teams managing to finish the entire route. Each team had a different strategy, balancing their load, optimising their speed, and carefully managing their energy usage. But the judges also had introduced a subjective element – have these young engineers really created a car that is desirable? To what extent is this car something that the members of the public want to own. The judges looked at ease of access, control layout, features, benefits, styles, aesthetics,
At the awards ceremony on Sunday October 25th 2015, James Harris, the lead recruiter of Tesla Motors in the US came on stage to announce the winner. It was Eindhoven Technical University's team with their family car Stella Lux. They completed the 3022 km in a little over 39 hours. They clocked 6044 passenger kilometres and a practicality score of 84.5%. That gave an overall mark of 97.3%!
Eindhoven: The Cruiser Class Winners
Solar Team Eindhoven captain, Tom Selten, started by honouring all the other competitors in the Cruiser class…Hochschule Bochum from Germany in particular. "Thanks to this Australian initiative, the team in Eindhoven got the opportunity to build this car. Of course, the competition was strong, but so was the team spirit between all the teams taking part in the Cruiser class."
Judging the cruiser class – Photo by Bart van Overbeeke
"As you may know, Solar Team Eindhoven won this Cruiser class in 2013." continued Tom. "We still firmly believe this type of car is the future direction for all solar cars. Our goal is to build a car that families really want to own. But since the last race, the rules for this World Solar Challenge category have changed – and not all in favour of the type of family car we believe in. In fact, in September 2014, we called a strategy meeting in Eindhoven to discuss our options with students and technical sponsors. Would we enter the Cruiser class again with these new, much tougher requirements with a reduced chance of winning? Or would we switch categories to the Challenger Class and focus all our strengths on building the world's fastest solar car."
"I am so glad we accepted the most difficult challenge and went for the next generation solar family car. This time, we've focussed our efforts on improving the safety, comfort and interior design of Stella Lux. We beat all our previous records this week – the range is now 1500 km for Stella Lux on a single charge. That's thanks to onboard smart technology which tracks both wind and sunshine and gives us the real-time range. That helps build a driving strategy. This is also the world's first energy-positive car – even in a Northern European car like the Netherlands. "
Challenger Class Winners
The first and second prizes for the Challenger class went to Delft (Nuon) and University of Twente respectively. In fact for the first three days Twente was leading Delft by several minutes. But they had to slow down to avoid some unsafe conditions, and Delft then took the lead. But it is also important to note that Twente improved on their 2013 racing time by almost four hours! So everyone is getting a lot faster.
It was also fitting that in their acceptance speech, Delft honoured the memory of the late Dutch astronaut and physicist Wubbo Ockels, who did so much to promote the global search for technologies to save the environment. He is famous for the quote: "Remember we only have one planet. There is no spare." That's why this rapid shift to renewable energy sources like solar is so important.