Among the many international solar vehicle challenges, the South African bases Sasol Solar Challenge is one of the most notorious. The route offers unique and challenging geographical characteristics as well as a rare structure. The aim is to cover the furthest distance possible in eight days, rather than the shortest time between two points of fixed distance.
Team leader, Johannes de Vries, explained that the challenge requires teams to design, build, manager and race their solar vehicles from inland Pretoria, across South Africa to Stellenbosch in the coastal region. Along the routes, teams must do careful planning, taking into account the changing landscape from a vast flat topography, to mountainous regions, ascending and descending hundreds of meters at a time.
“The route also offers a broad spectrum of weather conditions near the coastal towns, leading to challenging situations with at least a day or two of rain as well as some cloudy and very windy routes, “ de Vries added.
In the run-up to the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge, TUT and Meteomatics AG, a Swiss-based global weather service provider and weather drone experts, signed a Sponsorship Agreement, underpinning their strategic commitment to the innovation of future transportation. The parties formalised their engagement in order to display their joint capabilities with specific emphasis on the development of solar-powered vehicles. The strategic alliance focused on Meteomatics providing highly accurate weather data to the TUT team to use in their advanced route planning for their solar vehicle in the recent Sasol Solar Challenge 2018. “Optimising on technology, more specifically the use of Meteomatics AG, a Swiss-based global weather service provider and weather drone experts, played a major role in improving the performance of our solar car,” said Tiaan Oosthuizen, team member and PhD student in Meteomatics, responsible for calculating the algorithms that enabled better decision making in terms of weather predictions.
“For the past 18 months, I have developed algorithms and software, as part of my PhD, to optimize the energy use of SunChaser 3. The combined use of the Meteomatics data, which is a very accurate and stable platform for weather data, together with my algorithms, definitely gave us the edge, significantly improving the performance of our solar car, compared to 2016,” Tiaan added.
He explained that, although the North West University’s solar car was technologically much more advanced than SunChaser 3, TUT’s energy forecasts and decision making topped that of other local participants. “This, in combination with the entire team’s hard work and dedication, gave TUT the edge over other local competitors,” he added.
According to team leader, Johannes de Vries, the new regulations in terms of solar panel size posed some challenges in the design and manufacture of the solar car. The focus was on increased aerodynamics and as well as reducing the weight and size of the car, since there would be less solar energy available to it.
Photos and videos of the car taken during the challenge can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1G-BjV6NDPfMowjfdDMaPymbY3MNJ8C2_