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Tokai University Team Wins World Solar Challenge

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the congratulations-all-around dept.

Australia 25

Mike_EE_U_of_I writes "My wife and I went to Australia for the World Solar Challenge. My wife put up video of the start, and now an interview with one of the drivers of the winning team. Congratulations Tokai University!"

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Some more info (2)

Feinu (1956378) | about 3 years ago | (#37773010)

Summary is remarkably uninformative, adding nothing of interest that isn't in the heading.

They took 32 hours and 45 minutes to drive their car, Tokai Challenger2, 3021 kilometres on solar power averaging a speed of 91.54 kilometres per hour.

Team Nuon from the Netherlands was close behind:

Team Nuon arrived in Angle Vale at 2.12 pm Darwin time in a time of 33.5 hours with an average speed of 88.62 kilometres per hour.

Sourced from this pdf []

Re:Some more info (1)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about 3 years ago | (#37775492)

In case it wasn't clear, the cars all start with full batteries.

The size of the batteries is restricted (based on the chemistry used in the batteries), but no matter what type of battery you use, you can start with it full.

I find it rather hard to evaluate how solar power has progressed because of this. What would the top average speed be if batteries started depleted?

Re:Some more info (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 3 years ago | (#37778126)

Assuming they finish with the batteries depleted, I'd calculate it as though they sit on the start line for long enough to charge up the batteries from the solar panels; that'd give you a rough estimate.

All you'd need to know is the capacity of the batteries and the output of the solar cells, which I'd look up and calculate for you if I weren't so lazy.

Re:Some more info (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37782314)

Well as of 3 years ago...using a 3' square panel I got online for $169, a $12 regulator box, (optional) $6 charge meter, and standard, normal, regular, run-of-the-mill $89 12V car battery, my panel can charge the battery from dead empty to full in about 4.5 hours. If I hook a 600 watt car inverter to it, I can run a floor fan a full 9+ hours and the battery never drops below full - even in indriect/shade conditions. I bought this to setup a camera near the end of our driveway but found the wifi didn't now I run a floor fan on the porch with it. The inverter has 2 plugs so occasionally I run a lamp, charge my phone or tablet, or other small things with it. The battery remains at 100% pretty much all the time, and has suffered no noticeable degradation in capacity whatsoever. And this is a cheap online kit from 3 years ago, folks. Not thin film, not untra-efficient. Nothing fancy (or even really expensive) about it.

I still don't understand why people think solar is such a pipe dream. I've figured up we could run our house off roughly 14 panels of this same size with a bank of around 30 batteries in the basement and a couple heavy duty inverters. No, it wouldn't cover ALL of our energy usage (we live in Alabama, so half the year we run the AC or heat, and 5-6 months we need only fans.) However, Southern Company (the power company) allows you to sell them back power directly into the line, and the AC is over 40% of our total power usage. So if we sell power back to them during the 5-6 months per year when we're not running the AC, and only draw power from the grid when we need it (for the AC) we should be able to cut our $350/month power bill down to around $200/year. That's pretty big savings, and would pay for the entire project in just over 2 years.

As to the progress of solar - right now, the issue is mostly a mental block, not a technological one. Most people either tried solar in the 80's when it was crap, or have one of those solar phone chargers, 80% of which are HIGHLY inefficient and don't work well. Solar has been ready for primetime for about 10 years now. The issue is nobody is able to get past the mental block of "free energy? bah!" that power companies have worked so hard for so long to drill into our heads. No, I'm not saying solar can power everything. However, I would say that reducing the power usage of every home (not even businesses or apartments, just freestanding houses) by 80% would go a LONG way towards easing the tension on the grid, not to mention the middle class's wallets.

Re:Some more info (1)

cynyr (703126) | about 3 years ago | (#37786166)

move that north to Minneapolis MN, and let me know how well it works covered in snow. Do you have gas appliances? try converting them to electric equivalents and re-running the math. Also heat in Alabama winter is nothing like the heat needed in a MN winter. I don't have my ASHRAE data handy, but i'd bet the summer cooling is similar. Probably only 25% more hours needed down there.

Also there is the capital investment, and the city ordinances to be sorted out. ($170* 14) + (30 * $90 in batteries) + ($1000 invert-ers) + ($600 for the electrician to do the install) + ( $200 for the building permit) + ($100 for all the copper wire) = ~$6000 I'm making up the values, but hopefully i'm closeish although I could easily see this costing north of $20,000 all said and done. I think you are being aggressive about how many months you will get to sell back and what rate, but $6000 / ($4200-$200) = 1.5 years in payback. Depending on the life of the standard car batteries with those sorts of loads, it may or may not work out. I would think that would depend on your peek loading.

So I think you need to take a much more measured approach to this and actually find out how many hours you can expect to be over capacity, how many cooling hours you have, and exactly how much power everything uses. It may turn out that you have to spend $10,000 to save $1000 a year, with a 5 year life on the batteries.

Yes I'm looking at doing the whole load with solar, not just offsetting some of my bill.

Re:Some more info (1)

gstrickler (920733) | about 3 years ago | (#37778362)

That's irrelevant. If they can drive 3000km in one 33hr trip (spread over 4 days), there is plenty of time for charging the batteries, therefore, it's reasonable to assume that you'll always start with nearly full batteries.

Re:Some more info (1)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about 3 years ago | (#37779686)

I think you are misunderstanding the point here. Why would anyone ever finish the race with the battery full? The motors run off of electricity, and the fuel is extremely limited.

I didn't know the wait limit of the batteries when I posted before, so I went and looked it up. If you use Pb-acid (standard car battery), you are limited to 125 kg of battery. That's about triple the battery that a full-sized semi truck has, and enough to propel a little plexiglalss framed vehicle many, many km.

But, I doubt anyone would use lead acid after looking at the other choices:

  • LiFePO4: 40 kg
  • Li-polymer: 22 kg
  • Li-ion: 21 kg
  • NiMH: 70 kg

Wikipedia says that NiMH [] batteries produce 60-120 Wh/kg. That means that if you complete the race in 35 hours (just a little slower than the leader most years), then you are getting 120-240 Watts of power throughout the whole race, off of just the initial charge of the batteries. This would correspond to almost a full square meter of solar cells.

tl:dr: A good chunk of the power used in the race comes from the initial charge of the battery. They start full, end empty, and are very, very large.

Re:Some more info (1)

gstrickler (920733) | about 3 years ago | (#37779950)

You're missing the point. At those distances and speeds, if you finish your drive with the battery empty, it will have time to recharge before you need to drive again.

2nd best (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37773024)

I also congratulate the Dutch team from Delft university.
pretty amazing catch-up they did.

Fairly impressive stuff (2)

inflex (123318) | about 3 years ago | (#37773148)

I live in the Northern Australia parts and if there's one thing we certainly don't have a shortage of, it's damned hot weather with a lot of sunshine, so solar really is easy for us to use/access, wish more of us were doing so.

Almost 100km/hr is quite a decent rate, note that it's the speed-limit for most of the roads in Australia (some places allow 110km/hr, Northern Territory has some "unlimited" zones but that's a bit of a misnomer).

Now, I wonder if they'll start adding new demands on the cars such as "Must run air-conditioning" or similar loads.

Re:Fairly impressive stuff (1)

cynyr (703126) | about 3 years ago | (#37786186)

must seat 4 with room to move, and have AC and a sat-nav running during the whole of travel.

Re:Fairly impressive stuff (1)

Tacticus.v1 (1102137) | about 3 years ago | (#37788650)

The speed this year is slower than previous (2005 was faster) ones because they have made the rules significantly harder each time round

The cars are awesome to watch as they go by (i've seen quite a few of the races missed the last 2 and 2003) or even overtake you

oh btw NT is limited to a numeric value these days (130km/hr)

Re:Fairly impressive stuff (1)

inflex (123318) | about 3 years ago | (#37788942)

Oh thanks for the update on the NT speeds - when we used to live there (1979~1981) it was a nice "what ever" speed (Jabiru to Darwin etc) :)

Any questions you want asked of the next teams? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37773332)

BTW, we'll be interviewing members of the second and third place teams tomorrow (Nuon and University of Michigan). Any questions you want my wife to ask, just post them here. I'll take a look here before we go out (in about nine hours, the clock is ticking!).

Pile on the technical questions (1)

evanh (627108) | about 3 years ago | (#37774446)

Your wife asked one about what the solar were built from but the Panasonic dude didn't appear to understand. They need to understand their own products!

Music (1)

nullchar (446050) | about 3 years ago | (#37775426)

As this is a long race, and the cars are obviously optimized to be as light and aerodynamic as possible, are the drivers always listening to their teammates over radio or do they get to kick it to some tunes? Seems like driver's choice of music may help them in the endurance race. (Follow up: if any of them listen to music, what genre, specifically what tempo?)

Driver Temperature (1)

nullchar (446050) | about 3 years ago | (#37775498)

How hot is it inside the tiny "cabins" of the cars? Do they have ventilation? Like another poster mentioned, they obviously don't have air conditioning.

Re:Driver Temperature (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 3 years ago | (#37778184)

According to a TV report I saw today, up to 50 deg C. That means there'll be some ventilation. They also have mandatory driver swaps every couple of hours to minimize the health risk.

Car Analogy (0)

UnoriginalBoringNick (1562311) | about 3 years ago | (#37773360)

It's a bit like some cars had a race and one of them won.

Yatta! \o/ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37774670)

Yuushou, omedetou gozaimasu!

My wife has an inner ear infection (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37775440)

Wow, you really can use that to begin many sentences!

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37776872)

That's the worst interview and the worst web site I've seen in quite some time. Hard to believe they took something that interesting and made it completely uninteresting.

Did they celebrate with the wine? (1)

Ossifer (703813) | about 3 years ago | (#37779520)

If so, how many "puttonyos" [] ?

A little more info about solar car racing (1)

tocsy (2489832) | about 3 years ago | (#37780632)

Hi, I'm a previous solar car driver for a university in the U.S.. Although I never raced in WSC, I did race in ASC (American Solar Challenge) and they have similar rules.

The amount of time you get to charge the batteries is severely limited. In ASC each team is allowed to charge for one hour before they start driving and one hour after they stop. I'm not sure how much time, if any, teams are allowed to charge outside the normal driving time.

One of the main challenges in racing a solar car is finding a good balance between speed, power consumption and reliability. Obviously, the faster you go, the faster you finish the race, but that's assuming you have enough power to finish. Power doesn't just mean what's coming from your array - you have to take into consideration losses due to electronics, aerodynamics of your shell, and road resistance. Finally if your car breaks down halfway through the race, you're going to be hurting until you can get it up and running again. It's been my experience that reliability makes the largest difference - you can be going much slower than other teams, but if you're on the road the entire time and not having to pull over to fix your car, you'll be in pretty good shape.

It's my understanding that Tokai had a combination of all three - they had the speed they needed, the power to continue at that speed, and very few, if any, unplanned stops.

And some luck with the weather (1)

Frans Faase (648933) | about 3 years ago | (#37785744)

And they also had some luck with the weather. It was the 21Connect from the University of Twente (from which I graduated) who started in pole position. They only by a small margin won from the Nuon, the other Dutch team. On the first day, they suffered a small malfunction and lost 20 minutes. They took over many other cars, but got much further behind, because the weather conditions became worse compared to those on the top. And the conditions only became worse. Just today, the had to battle against strong winds (up to 70 Km/h) and thick clouds. Although they are on fifth position, they are not sure whether they can finish tomorrow, while Nuon team finished second behind the Tokai university team. Those differences in finishing times cannot be explained by differences in performance, but must be contributed to differences in weather conditions.
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