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Sasol Solar Challenge – a catalyst for technological development and learning

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Sasol Solar Challenge – a catalyst for technological development and learning

For centuries scientists and laymen have deliberated on harnessing the immense power from the sun as a cost-effective and inexhaustible supply of energy. Capturing the sun’s heat is relatively easy and great strides have been made in solar geysers, heaters and power generation, however, capturing solar energy can be a challenging endeavour.

Using solar energy as a primary source of power for vehicles was a burning ambition of Danish-born adventurer, Hans Tholstrup. During the 1980s, he began to explore the possibilities of sustainable energy as a replacement for fossil fuels, by designing the world’s first solar car, which he navigated 4 052km from Sydney to Perth in 20 days.

That was the precursor of the World Solar Challenge which originated in Australia in 1987 and has been run as an event there ever since.

Fast forward to Pretoria in 2003, Winstone Jordaan – chairman of the Advanced Energy Foundation and Race Director of the Sasol Solar Challenge – was determined to develop the technology in South Africa, after seeing the strides made through staging a competitive event in Australia.

“The idea of a local event which would attract the world’s top minds in the field of solar technology to our own backyard was just too irresistible to ignore. After much persuasion and discussions with academics at universities and potential sponsors, the first South African solar challenge was held in 2008,” explained Jordaan.

The 2008 event attracted international competition and was won by the Tokai Challenger, built by the Tokai University Solar Car Team in Japan. This spurred South African universities to concentrate on further developing solar technology. Today, many have grasped the opportunity by even including the development and construction of a solar-powered vehicle in their academic curriculum.

Sasol has sponsored the event since 2012, and believes that the solar challenge is an ideal platform for the advancement of STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – amongst schools, universities, and the public at large. Conceptualising, designing and building a solar car ticks all the boxes of STEM principles in that it provides a practical laboratory on wheels for the students.

“We are all aware of the skills crisis in South Africa, and as a company we see this challenge as one way of encouraging more youngsters to follow a technical career,” said Richard Hughes, Group Sponsorship Manager at Sasol.

“Solar cars show the public what solar energy can do, thereby creating positive sentiment and putting a huge amount of information out there for enquiring minds,” he continued.

The 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge will start in Pretoria on 27 September 2014 and finish in Cape Town on 4 October 2014. For more information and to get behind your team, follow the Sasol Solar Challenge on Twitter @Solar_Challenge, like the Facebook page www.facebook.com/SASolarChallenge, and visit us at www.solarchallenge.org.za.