CalSol completes World Solar Challenge

A solar car engineered by UC Berkeley students successfully completed a transcontinental race across the Australian outback this weekend, despite obstacles posed by the environment and technological difficulties with the vehicle.

Facing competitors from around the globe, the campus solar car team CalSol and its vehicle, Impulse, finished 20th out of about 40 total teams in the World Solar Challenge, according to provisional results on the challenge’s website.

However, those results have been contested by one of the teams and will be resolved “as soon as it is practical to do so” given that many of the teams are still en route to their home countries.

As for CalSol, the team encountered a number of speed bumps in its journey from Darwin to Adelaide. On the second of the seven-day race, a broken connector caused one section of five on the car’s solar array to die, while one of the lithium ion battery modules that helped charge Impulse was replaced because it was severely undercharged, according to the team’s blog.

Yet as the race continued, so did the battery problems. By the fifth day, the team had shut off one of 35 battery modules after the replacement experienced the same complications.

Additionally, the car’s ability to maximize usage of solar power was inhibited by clouds on several days, while a brush fire created a similarly obstructive haze and held the team back for hours in Tennant Creek on the third day.

In the end, a stronger sun on the final day allowed the car to race down Australia’s Stuart Highway at speeds of up to 85 kilometers per hour even though the batteries were nearly empty.

J.D. Morris is the lead environment reporter.