Why aren’t we using solar power much more often? Endless driving, powered by the sun: that would be an ideal scenario. Before we get there, racing series across the world are being initiated to accelerate solar power technology. Indian students of the Manipal Institute of Technology are currently building an ‘energy positive’ solar car, meaning that the vehicle theoretically could power one’s home. The two passenger solar car will compete in this year’s Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa.
The SolarMobil Team started in 2011 with building a single seater solar electric vehicle prototype. But it kept them thinking. “Fuel sources are being depleted and fuel prices are exponentially increasing. So, we wanted to make a car which doesn’t pollute the environment and use the free solar energy to power the car. We want to show the world that a solar electric vehicle is a viable alternative”, says team manager Anudeep Reddy.
Their current project ‘Serve: Solar Electric Road Vehicle’ is a purpose built two passenger, four wheeled 4,4 metre road car in length, 1,75 metre wide and 1,28 metre in height. It weights 400 kilogrammes and uses 6 square metres of monocrystalline silicon solar panels which can generate power of more than 1 kW at an efficiency rate of 20 per cent. It charges a battery pack consisting of lithium ion cells at a capacity of 13 kWh, weighing 63 kg. It would give the car a range of over 250 kilometres which is sufficient for each leg of the race.
Building a solar powered vehicle is quite a challenge, describes Anjan Kumar, who is in charge of the electrical team: “Since the energy generated from the solar panels is very less, we’ve tried to make the car as aerodynamic, lightweight and efficient as we can”. But with the help of strong partners like Agni Motors and TATA Power Solar, the team is confident in succeeding. The car should be capable of producing energy that can be given back to the grid. “Imagine a world with many solar cars which can create a power house at every parking station”, he adds.
In September, a 3000 kilometre journey will be completed. The Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa facilitates the race from Pretoria to Cape Town in eight days. “Our aim is to finish this challenge in the least time possible, interact with international teams and try improving our technology. It also serves as the best platform to test the endurance of our car across the varied conditions of the South African terrain”, Amol Grover believes, who is part of the mechanical team. Solar Mobil Manipal is the only Solar Car Team in South India. The other two teams from India are the NSIT Solar Car & the DTU’s Solaris.
The car is currently being tested to face the endurance race. “The key is to plan the energy consumption and to create a strategy. We’ve analysed the World Solar Challenge and SA Solar Challenge races of the past two years to ensure that our vehicle is fit for all kinds of scenarios”, says Nikhil Gumidelli, who is responsible for the solar panels.
Sasol Solar Challenge is university competition, like the World Solar Challenge in Australia, where international student designing, building and racing their own solar electric vehicle. Although racing in the ‘single seater’ category, Nuon Solar Team – winner of the latest edition of the race in Australia – will also take part.