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Sasol Solar Challenge: Driving innovation and shaping the future of mobility

Driving innovation and shaping the future of mobility

More than a decade after its debut in South Africa, the Sasol Solar Challenge continues to be the ultimate test of technology and innovation and contributor to the future of mobility globally.

The Sasol Solar Challenge, (previously known as South African Solar Challenge) in its fourteenth year, is a biennial competition for talented engineering teams from around the world to challenge each other to cover as much distance as possible as they travel on public roads from Gauteng to the Western Cape. Local and international teams conceptualise, design and build solar-powered vehicles to drive across South Africa in the eight-day long event while competing against each other, demonstrating and showcasing their design, manufacturing, and strategy skills. The challenge runs on public roads, sharing space with trucks and regular traffic, and passes through multiple small towns. The Sasol Solar Challenge was inspired by the World Solar Challenge which is now known as the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge held in Australia since 1987.

Debuted in South Africa in 2008, the first event had only seven teams competing, including one international team. Fast forward to the recent event in 2018, and the Sasol Solar Challenge has evolved into a formidable and electrifying solar challenge event with more teams competing. Roughly 40 different solar car teams have competed since 2008 and comprises both new and experienced local and international teams, including university and high school teams and private engineers.

“The Sasol Solar Challenge attracts international teams and world champions of solar challenges to come to South Africa and compete alongside our local teams. We can proudly say that the Sasol Solar Challenge is the biggest solar challenge in Africa,” said Robert Walker, Owner and Director of the Sasol Solar Challenge.

“The event is not just about having solar cars compete against each other, but also aims to raise awareness on the use of renewable energy and to attract young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and inspire them and the communities along the route to develop sustainable solutions to address mobility challenges within their neighbourhood.”

Solar car teams who have competed in the Sasol Solar Challenge hail the event as the most well organised with a challenging but adventurous format which makes it even more attractive to international teams.

“The format of the event together with the diverse weather conditions of South Africa and the changing road surfaces offers a new and exciting challenge for international teams. Additionally, the Sasol Solar Challenge has a prospect of a strong competition, and this makes it even more attractive,” said Sanne Vilters, team leader for Brunel Solar Team (Delft University of The Netherlands).

Meanwhile, local teams describe the Sasol Solar Challenge as a challenging but educational experience.

“The format of the Sasol Solar Challenge makes the event challenging, however, a greatest test for human and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) limits. The event also offers an educational experience in many ways – teams learn from each other in terms of various technologies and solutions to global challenges – on a cultural level as well as team and functional level,” said Johannes de Vries, Manager of the Tshwane University of Technology Solar Car Team.

“Participation in the Sasol Solar Challenge is where STEM projects and team members undergo the ultimate test.”

Francois Stevens, driver for the North West University Solar Car Team said: “The Sasol Solar Challenge is a multi-disciplinary initiative which presents a great opportunity for various education and private engineering institutions to work together on projects which contributes towards sustainable mobility across the globe.”

Stevens added that: “As the NWU team building our solar car, through the Sasol Solar Challenge we were able to learn and develop new skills and techniques. We now own four solar cars and continue to enhance our skills as we compete in each challenge.”

Opportunities for young people/communities/teachers

The Sasol Solar Challenge provides young people with the opportunity to experience hands-on learning and witness real-life applications of STEM education from like-minded scholars from around the world. It also helps them to better understand how solar technology works and why electric transportation is important for the future. The solar vehicles – from their aerodynamic design, telemetry used to plan their path, to the energy-converting technology, are impressive visual representations of the STEM subjects in action. Some of the teams go an extra mile to design and incorporate technologies into their solar cars, which enhances the communities’ experience – communities alongside the Sasol Solar Challenge route.

Among other teams, the Central University of Technology, a local team that competed for the first time in 2018, demonstrated technologies to the school learners along the route by loading a 360° footage shot from their solar car onto virtual reality headsets, which young kids used to immerse themselves in the driving experience.

“The Sasol Solar Challenge doesn’t only help young people to comprehend the concepts of STEM education and their applications easily, but also assists them to develop a variety of skill sets, including creativity, and challenges them to come up with their own innovative STEM solutions that tackles reallife problems,” said Nozipho Mbatha, Senior Manager: Group Brand and Sponsorships at Sasol.

During each Sasol Solar Challenge, a schools programme runs alongside the event. The programme provides an opportunity to learners along the route to get involved in STEM. This year a project has been launched to challenge learners to develop a sustainable solution to address mobility challenges faced by their communities. Some of the projects will be showcased during the event’s school activations, which is a CSI initiative aimed at creating awareness, excitement and unique opportunities for school learners with a specific focus on STEM subjects. The activations are conducted during controlstops along the route and offer an opportunity to learners in the communities to engage with the solar car teams and view the solar cars – a tangible engagement for learners to see the application of STEM in real life.

Teachers and entire communities along the Sasol Solar Challenge route, also have an opportunity to transform their skills and knowledge and impart those to young people – for the progress of the society.

Opportunities for solar car teams

The Sasol Solar Challenge strives to be the ultimate test of technology and innovation.

Solar car teams who compete in the challenge have an opportunity to practically apply the science and technology theory they’ve learnt at school or university and test their engineering skills against some of the best solar car teams in the world. The teams also contribute to industry research on solar technology, including the manufacturing of solar cells and electronics – battery systems that offer highdensity energy and solar cells which are more efficient are key focus areas for many industries globally.

The solar car teams continue to improve technologies that could be applied to electric vehicles to provide more efficient and cleaner alternative energy over internal combustion engine vehicles. The solar cars themselves continue to spark a desire for renewable and sustainable energy and more interest in engineering.

Recently, a local team (Tshwane University of Technology Solar Team) had one of their team members embark on a PhD in engineering, based on energy optimisation of a solar car. The study was implemented during the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge event and provided useful insights.

Another local team (University of Free State Solar Team), which will be competing for the first time in solar challenges expressed that the institution’s recent study into photovoltaic technologies – solar cells – has inspired their participation in the Sasol Solar Challenge.

Opportunities for college/university students

The Sasol Solar Challenge provides an opportunity for students to participate as volunteers to enhance their skills in respective fields of study, including electrical, mechanical, aerospace and industrial engineering, physics, information and communications technology.

The Sasol Solar Challenge remains one of the best solar journeys to test human and technical limits.

The 2022 event will take place from 9 to 16 September. This year’s route from Johannesburg to Cape Town will include five provinces, 14 towns and more than 20 communities. New towns include Brakpan, Trompsburg, Willowmore, Kirkwood, Jeffreys Bay, Riversdale and Caledon. The event is also bringing new local and international teams including those competing for the first time in South Africa and in a solar challenge.

Spectators are welcome at all stops, and more information on the route and the teams can be found at: solarchallenge.org.za





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