Solar car map of the Netherlands plus borderlands

Below (click to zoom) is a solar car map of the Netherlands (north, south, east, west), plus the German cities of Aachen & Bochum and the Belgian city of Leuven, which are close enough to the Dutch border to be in the map region. That’s 7 solar car teams in a very small corner of the world! (base map modified from one by Alphathon).


World Solar Challenge: current activities

Four representative solar car team activities in the lead-up to the World Solar Challenge in October – Top left: Cambridge revealed their Cruiser on 15 August (photo: Nigel); Top right: Solar Team Eindhoven packed up their Cruiser for air transport to Australia, as also did Top Dutch (photo: Bart van Overbeeke / STE); Bottom left: Agoria Solar Team (Belgium) did some final testing at Beauvechain Air Base in less than perfect weather (credit); Bottom right: Bochum SolarCar Projekt is staring at a map as their container slowly travels to Australia by sea – the ship was expected in Fremantle today, en route to Melbourne and Sydney (credit)

World Solar Challenge: statistics and recent news

Top left: Onda Solare revealed their modified Cruiser Emilia 4 LT on 31 July (credit); Top right: Western Sydney revealed their new monohull Challenger Unlimited 3.0 on 7 August (photo: Anthony Dekker); Bottom left: STC revealed their unusual passenger-behind-driver Cruiser on 8 August (credit); Bottom right: Durham revealed their asymmetric Challenger Ortus on 12 August (credit)

We have had a few new solar car reveals recently (see above – click to zoom). The pie chart below shows current statistics (excluding #67 Golden State and #86 Dyuti, which do not seem to be active teams). Among the Challengers, the designs for #4 Antakari, #10 Tokai, and #18 EcoPhoton are still unknown.

Monohulls remain a minority among the Challengers (though a minority that has doubled in size since 2017). I am using the term “outrigger” for cars with monohull bodies but wheels sticking well out to the sides (the two new Swedish teams, #23 HUST and #51 Chalmers). There are also two quite different wide symmetric cars (#22 MDH and #63 Alfaisal). Among the Cruisers, 4-seaters remain a minority, in spite of the substantial points benefit for carrying multiple passengers. As always, see my regularly updated illustrated teams list for details.

Australia’s fastest solar car team is now even faster!

The Western Sydney University team reveals their new car (photo: Anthony Dekker)

Australia’s champion Challenger-class solar car team (not to detract from the two excellent Cruiser-class teams, Arrow and Sunswift) is Western Sydney University, who have just revealed their exciting new solar car (above and below).

Another view of the WSU car, which is a monohull design with a gallium arsenide array (photo: Anthony Dekker)

After being forced to trailer in the 2013 World Solar Challenge, Western Sydney University came 10th in 2015 and 6th in 2017 (see graph below). And that 2017 result did not do their car justice, because in 2018 they went on to defeat the second-place team, Michigan. Their superb new car (above) is engineered to be even faster. Could they win this year? Or does the Dutch team from Delft have a stranglehold on the top position? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

World Solar Challenge car dimensions

The charts above and below (click to zoom) show the dimensions of some of the Challenger-class cars in the World Solar Challenge coming up this October (see also my illustrated teams list). In the chart above, ⬤ = cars with silicon arrays (4 m2 allowed), ⬛ = thin film single junction (3.56 m2 allowed), and ▲ = multijunction gallium arsenide (2.64 m2 allowed). All three technologies are in use this year. Hollow symbols denote cars from 2017.

Particularly noticeable is Twente’s incredibly shrinking car. They switched technologies this year, but were also so efficient that their new car is about 18% smaller than Delft’s – almost a square metre smaller! There are also three visible clusters – larger silicon-array cars at the top right, compact catamarans (like Twente and Delft) at the left, and monohulls at the bottom right. In the chart below, solid lines show dimensions for this year, and dotted lines those of 2017.

Update: the width of Eclipse’s entry has been corrected (the impact attenuator has been removed for WSC).

The legacy of Novum

Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

In 2017, the University of Michigan produced a stunning monohull solar car, Novum, which went on to take second place in the World Solar Challenge (it is shown mirror-reflected above). Their 2019 car, Electrum, has a pointier nose, and a more streamlined tail.

The new Top Dutch team has very sensibly taken Novum as a starting point for their car, no doubt feeling that the Netherlands already has too many catamarans (every new team should, if possible, strive to emulate one of the leaders of the last World Solar Challenge). Top Dutch appear to have independently made tail modifications very similar to those of Electrum. The Covestro Sonnenwagen from Aachen also shows signs of being influenced by Novum, but with a quite different nose.

Not shown are the Japanese monohulls, which look a little different, and the unique asymmetric monohull from Stanford. It will be very interesting to see all these monohulls take on the compact catamarans from Delft, Twente, and Belgium in the race this October!

A tale of two arrivals

Fifty years ago, on 19 July 1969, the spaceship duo Columbia / Eagle entered orbit around the Moon, roughly 3 days and 4 hours after its launch, as part of the Apollo 11 mission. Eagle (with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) went on the land on the moon on 20 July while Columbia (with Michael Collins) continued to orbit the moon. When he announced the space programme, Kennedy had said:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Much can be learned from doing hard things, and an enormous amount was learned from the space programme. Solar car teams also learn a great deal from doing hard things. Fifty years after Columbia and Eagle entered orbit, also after hard effort, the University of Michigan Solar Team’s solar car Electrum arrived in public view (at 17:30 Michigan time). They intend to win too!