Veolia World Solar Challenge-Day 3, October 18, 2011


This seems to be a good time to share some fundamentals of “How Does a Solar Car Work?”, for those of you who may be interested.  So, please allow me to use one of RiAus’ ( , RiAus stands for Royal Institute of Australia, with a focus on “Bring Science To People and People To Science”) pamphlets for demonstration purpose.  Please refer to the image “How Does A Solar Car Work?”   For clarification, the solar car design usually emphasizes the aerodynamics and lightness of weight, while maintaining a large surface area to allow the optimum number of solar cells (sometimes solar panels), with low friction tires and minimum wind resistance.  If you’d follow (1) through (5) in the graphics, they are:

(1). It starts with the sun: Solar energy, in the form of photons, radiates from the sun 150 million km from earth

(2). Solar energy becomes electricity: The photons hit solar panels/solar cells mounted on the car.  This energises the electrons in the panels/cells causing them to move.  This movement generates an electric current.

(3). Power storage: Batteries can store extra solar power in the form of chemical energy, which can then be fed to the motor when there is insufficient sunlight.

(Solar car panels/cells have a textured surface to maximize surface area.  This increases the amount of light energy can be harnessed.)

(4). Motor controller: the motor controller regulates how much power is fed to the motor. When the accelerator is pressed, the motor controller changes the frequency of the electricity output.  When the car is moving, electricity can be fed directly from the solar panels to the motor controller.

Fact: the motors unique hub design results in 98% efficiency. At 100km/hr the cars use the same energy as a toaster!

(5). The motor: power reaches the motor, which is contained within the wheel. A typical motor includes strong magnets and a wire coil to carry the current. The interaction between the magnetic force and electric current generates motion.

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