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Solar Vehicle Lecture - Mar 2017

This was a Technical lecture given by Steven Heape, founder and director of Solar Team GB on the aims and progress of Solar Team GB’s entry to the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. 

The talk began with an introduction to Solar Team GB and their aim to compete for a podium place at the 2017 Bridgestone Solar Challenge in Australia.  Solar Team GB are a team comprised of volunteers drawn from leading UK universities and engineering companies and also a diverse range of other backgrounds.  The team is an open team and invites interested individuals to volunteer by contacting Steven on E: T: 07766 302165.

The Bridgestone Solar Challenge is a time trial for solar-electric vehicles which takes place from Darwin in the North, to Adelaide in the South of Australia, a journey of approximately 3000km on public roads.  Vehicles are strictly controlled by construction rules, teams are required to demonstrate by numerical analysis and physical scrutinising, that their vehicles exceed technical and safety requirements. 

There are three classes of vehicle each with different rules and objectives: 

  • Challenger class comprises state of the art single seat all-out racing vehicles.  These are futuristic carbon composite vehicles whose purpose is to propel a single pilot as quickly as possible to the finish.
  • Cruiser class, the class that Solar Team GB will be challenging, is a regularity trial based on efficiency.  Points are awarded not only for speed but also for the number of passengers carried per km. 
  • Adventure class, a non competitive class, providing an opportunity for vehicles complying with previous event’s regulations to enter.

Steven focussed his talk on the cruiser class and specifically on the details of the logistics of competing in the World Solar Challenge, the Solar Team GB car, and it’s technologies. 

Typically large teams of between 15 and 30 people are required to support the vehicles.  Significant analysis of the route topography, weather and tactics is conducted in real time by support vehicles travelling in convoy with the solar challengers.  This provides the competitive edge required for success.  Finish times for the top vehicles are usually within minutes of each other, quite amazing after travelling a course of over 3000km.

The vehicles are typically of monocoque or space frame & skin construction to maximise specific strength.  They are driven by either central or hub based motors.  The power source comprises a photovoltaic array of 6 square metres, and a battery storage of 5kWh. 

Economics  have a significant effect on the design:  Hub based motors, being lighter and mechanically more simple having no power transmission components, are three times as expensive per vehicle.  Similarly the highest efficiency GaAs photovoltaic panels are many times the cost of silicon based cells.  Solar Team GB have opted to use moderately expensive technologies and have focussed resources towards optimising and developing their design to maximise their advantage and to find practical and transferable solutions.  The hope is that these vehicles may help to generate the future technologies, motors, controllers, photovoltaics, converters, and lightweight structures that will be useful in realising practical solar-electric vehicles that can provide a realistic alternative to internal combustion engined vehicles.

The project timeline was presented, design being nearly complete the team are in the process of moving into the construction, integration and testing phases.  This is an ambitious project with aggressive time scales.  The challenge takes place between 8th and 15th October 2017 and there is a lot of work to be done. 

Solar Team GB represents an opportunity for young British engineers to get involved with a cutting edge project of international standing and really show what we can do.  Unlike for example the Bloodhound SSC project where the obvious consequences of even minor failure dictate employing the skills of very highly specialised and qualified engineers,  Team Solar GB has the opportunity to engage qualifying and recently qualified engineers in a project of significant difficulty and international acclaim.

After a short Q&A session the meeting finished.

Further information is available at:

Robert G. Bell, March 16 2017    

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