How Does A Solar Car Work?


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Some of our young readers/viewers/visitors are very interested in the World Solar Challenge 2013 and have written to find out more about how solar cars are built and how they work.  So I spent a good part of the day, digging through all of my accumulated videos and photos, looking for graphical images and videos that would help to satisfy their request.

Luckily, during World Solar Challenge 2011 in Australia, I encountered some wonderful people working at RiAus (Royal Institution of Australia).

The Science Exchange of RiAus (formerly Adelaide's Stock Exchange building, The Science Exchange, Exchange Place, Adelaide SA 5000, photographed by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker)

They’ve provided me the graphics and explanations showing the most important components of the Solar Car. Below, you will see the solar car design, intended to be aerodynamics and light while maintaining a large surface area to allow the maximum number of solar panels. These solar cars also have low friction tires and a sleek design to reduce wind resistance, below:

How Does A Solar Car Work (credit: RiAus, grapahic designer Carol Perkins, Royal Institution of Australia, in association with World Solar Challenge)

  1. Starting with the Sun: Solar energy, in the form of photons, radiates from the sun 150 million kilometers from earth.
  2. Solar energy becomes electricity: The photons hit solar panels mounted on the car. This energises the electrons in the panel causing them to move. The movement generates an electrical current. Solar car panels have a textured surface to maximize surface area to increase the amount of light energy that can be harnessed.
  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.
  4. Motor controller: The motor controller regulates how much power is fed to the motor. When the accelerator 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.
  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.

RiAus (Royal Institution of Australia) is Australia’s unique national science hub, promoting public awareness and understanding of science. RiAus intends to make science fun, inspiring and accessible for all Australians. This is accomplished  by producing online content, public events, and education and teacher support programs. RiAus helps people discover the wonders of science, inspiring a new generation to learn and appreciate the importance of science in their daily life. To find out more about various projects at RiAus, please visit:

gathered, written, and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker

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