Solar Energy Racers (SER)

TEAM | Solar Energy Racers (SER)


COUNTRY | Switzerland

CLASS | Challenger

Unlike most other teams, the Solar Energy Racers consisted mainly of 16 – 18- year-old enthusiasts from a small village in Switzerland called Uzwil. The teenagers were sheet metal, electrical and mechanical design apprentices at the Bühler Group factory – a Swiss technology company.

The Solar Energy Racers team has been competing in solar car events across the globe since 2011. However, none of them are full-time solar car racers, and there are no monetary benefits or academic outputs generated by their work. They are all simply volunteers who work on the car after hours in an old garage, and joke that they’re the “low budget, grass roots, garage team”.

Despite this, the team has racked up accolades in their seven years of competing, most notably a top-five finish at the 2013 World Solar Challenge across Australia, second-place finish in the 2014 European Solar Challenge, and a runner-up in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

The apprentices get assistance from a handful of academics from ETH Zurich University and the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, as well as coaching from experts at the Bühler Group.

The team built a new car, SER-3, for the 2018 Sasol Solar Challenge’s updated regulations. The cars shell was made from carbon fibre and resin lamination and only weighed about 140kg. The students did most of the manufacturing themselves, but the drive motor, solar array and battery packs had to be bought. Their budget was just shy of 160 000 Swiss Francs (roughly R2,2 million).

Because the team members were so young, they faced the unusual challenge of not having many drivers to choose from - most of them were too young to have their licenses! A handful of older team members, who were also light enough to be drivers, took on this responsibility.

The Solar Energy Racers kept their spirits high by having a meeting every single Thursday to discuss progress. They were also supported by their entire village. While Uzwil locals couldn’t help financially, they contributed manpower, nuts and bolts, and the local chocolate manufacturer made sure that they had enough chocolate to power through the late nights of hard work!

The Solar Energy Racers from Switzerland placed third despite challenges on the road, completing 2,642.1km in total. Their cockpit cover sustained damage early on in the eight-day challenge, and the team had to repair damage overnight. The group of students rallied, and still managed a comfortable 300-kilometre lead on the next car.