Solar car races have existed for a number of years, with many such as the “American Solar Challenge” that runs a 1,100 mile course from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to Naperville, Illinois having gone on for roughly 20 years now. These races have even become so well known in many media cultures to have become the focus of some movies, such as the 1996 comedy-drama “Race the Sun”. Beyond simply being an interesting pastime, however, these races have a very real benefit to many alternative energy industry personnel and have played an active role in helping to shape the modern solar power industry.
Focusing on the most efficient and effective usage of energy possible from solar photovoltaic cells available today, solar car participants must use their engineering skills to develop a vehicle that is both light weight and energy efficient enough to allow them to achieve both speed and endurance into a small craft to make the substantial run between cities. This means that existing designs must be scrutinized, analyzed and modified each year by experienced engineers that may or may not be professionals in their fields in order to bring about the best possible results.
Much like the F1 race engineers allow for more than simply the design of cars with their car designs being able to be applied to airplanes and other streamlined vehicles the concepts behind the engineering that is used in these solar races can apply to any number of situations. Higher efficiency energy relays allowing for better collection and conversion of solar power for immediate use, for instance, can be developed for usage in the race setting which can then be converted for usage in other areas of power generation. Further, solar cell arrays that are designed for car usage during the race in order to maximize their potential power collection ability throughout the day can also be applied to stationary structures in order to better allow for energy production in both commercial and industrial scenarios.
Finally, the races exist each year as a way to “stress test” new technologies and techniques that have been under development over the year and need an effective, hands-on way to experiment with new technology in order to fully explore its strengths and weaknesses in highly stressful situations in order to push it to its limit and truly see how effective it can remain in any number of situations other than purely static developments or in specialized lab environments.
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