This week at the Abu Dhabi Ascent climate meeting in the United Arab Emirates, renewable energy company Masdar, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), announced that it will sponsor the region's first solar electric car competition to take place in the UAE next January. The event will coincide with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, while the completion will be at the opening ceremony of The World Future Energy Summit.
The challenge, which is sanctioned by the International Solarcar Federation (ISF), invites student teams from 20 countries around the world to participate in the four-day event -- which will take place over a 1,200 kilometer (750 mile) course, comprised of both urban and desert environments. The winner of the endurance event will be the team that completes the course in the shortest overall time.
Though ADNOC's reason for being is to integrate the country's oil and gas industry interests, the Petroleum Institute, one of ADNOC's academic institutions, will be entering a solar vehicle in the contest. During the press conference, Mr. Mohammed S. Al Qubaisi of ADNOC said that the company believes in the importance of scientific research and that the event would help cement their position in renewables. A primary objective of the solar challenge is to bring a knowledge base to UAE universities, and to that end, universities will pair up with the international teams for the contest.
The event follows in the footsteps of similar solar car challenges held around the world such as the World Solar Challenge held in Australia, and the American Solar challenge hosted in the U.S. In turn, these events were inspired by Mr. Hans Tholstrup's crossing of Australia back in 1982, when it took him 20 days to achieve the crossing at a speed of just 23 kilometers per hour. Tholstrup, now president of the ISF, was on hand at the press conference announcing next years event: "We had been exploring the addition of a solar challenge in the Middle East and North Africa region for several years now. The emergence of the UAE as a leader in the region in future energy and education is quite evident and it became the natural choice for this challenge."
Tholstrup went on to say that since his Australia crossing over 30 years ago, the technology incorporated into student vehicles has improved beyond expectation. Modern iterations of solar electric vehicles are over four times faster today, now reaching speeds of up to 100 kmh (62.5 mph), and make use of lightweight carbon fiber materials, the best solar panels and electric motors available, and low resistance tires. When you consider the cars are drawing about the same power as an electric hair dryer, the performance is pretty astounding. Tholstrup emphasized events like the Abu Dhabi solar challenge focus on three important objectives: Education, energy efficiency and environmental consciousness.
Students are able to develop and showcase their technical and creative abilities, while also gaining an understanding of marketing, business and management skills needed to execute large and complex projects, according to the press release.
Still, some people may be wondering what practical purpose the cars themselves provide. After all, as you can see from the picture, the fragile-looking, single-seat pod hardly offers much day-to-day utility and wouldn't be of any use hauling the family around.
Instead, these vehicles push the boundaries of technical possibilities, which allows many of the technologies developed to be transferred into commercial applications. For example, Tholstrup pointed out that through the pursuit of solar challenges, teams have to focus on achieving maximal efficiency to make the most of the sun's energy. This has translated into the development of electric motors that are as much as 96 percent efficient, and that learning goes into the development of future products - a useful efficiency boost, even if we shouldn't expect to see solar powered family cars in the future. When you consider an internal combustion engine is only in the region of 30 to 40 percent efficient, it provides electric vehicles with a very significant advantage.
Image courtesy of Masdar
Travel expenses for the Author and TriplePundit to attend Abu Dhabi Ascent were provided by Masdar.
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Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.