The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge was the most electrifying event, which brought together, and inspired various communities from around the world through cutting-edge solar cars that were showcased across the country during the eight-day long action-packed solar challenge.
Residents of all ages along the route from Johannesburg to Cape Town gathered at each control-stop of the event to welcome and support the solar car teams, which were competing in this year’s event. This gave them an opportunity to learn more about the innovations and technologies developed by scholars and private engineers from around the world. Town and provincial officials as well as relatives of the participating teams (both local and international) were also part of the Sasol Solar Challenge experience.
“The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge was one of its kind. In the 14 years of its existence, we are proud to say that this year’s solar challenge was the biggest and most successful event. Throughout the years, we have been trying to make the event to be interesting but educational at the same time. This year we managed to do both,” said Robert Walker, Owner and Director of the Sasol Solar Challenge.
He added that: “We are thrilled that, through the innovations and technologies that were showcased along the route, we managed to inspire many young minds, and have already received communication from some of the towns that they will be bringing solar car teams to participate in the next Sasol Solar Challenge.”
Strategy and adventure were the key themes for this year’s solar challenge as teams battled to cover the most kilometres. To make the challenge exciting, this year’s Sasol Solar Challenge incorporated special stages - the first-ever features in any solar challenge globally. These were; a marathon stage, which was aimed at challenging teams to work on their solar cars in a closed and secured area with limited workforce. The other stages were half and full blind stages, where information relating to the route was withheld until the night before teams took on the road, which forced them to strategise last minute. The marathon stage started in Kroonstad and finished in Gariep, while the full blind stage started and finished in Graaff-Reinet on day five of the event. The half blind stage took place in Knysna on day seven.
“The teams found these to be challenging, however, exciting at the same time as it required them to work together to fix their solar cars, navigate the route, measure speed limits while also taking into consideration to cover as many kilometres as possible. We are proud as the Sasol Solar Challenge to be the first-ever solar event to incorporate such stages. This shows how much the event has grown and continue to drive innovation both in the challenge itself and the technologies developed by the teams,” said Walker.
This year’s route included new towns which are Brakpan, Trompsburg, Willowmore, Kirkwood, Jeffreys Bay, Riversdale and Caledon.
Teams had an opportunity to drive around loops of road to increase their kilometres throughout the eight days. The loops included short and longer loops with various distances, the longest one being a 79.6 km day loop distance.
At each stop along the route, the event was welcomed with great excitement. Some communities used the event as a day out with their friends and families – to learn more about solar technology and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) innovations in real-life.
“The Sasol Solar Challenge is such a highlight in our social media calendar and I love the chatter and excitement online from the communities that hosted us in their towns. They were not only excited to host us but were so eager to learn more about each and every aspect of the event and how solar cars function. It was an amazing sight to witness over the eight days as thousands of learners joined the schools programme and brought their own solar and STEM projects to showcase at each stop. We always strive to ignite curiosity and a love for science and engineering in our younger generation and I love how demonstrable this entire experience has been” said MJ Khan, Head of Group Digital Communications at Sasol.
Nozipho Mbatha, Senior Manager: Group Brand and Sponsorships at Sasol echoed Khan and said: “We are grateful to all partners who contributed to making the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge a success. It was great to work with organisations and individuals who share the same values with the Sasol Solar Challenge, who also helped in spreading the awareness of the event even further.”
Support received from communities along the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge route
Some communities along the route couldn’t hold their excitement as they saw the solar cars driving in their towns. The community of Graaff-Reinet flooded the start and finish lines of day four, five and six of the event, which were set up next to the iconic church in the town, to support the teams.
Town officials from the Graaff-Reinet were also in full force to manage the proceedings. Some participated in the event by waving the flag at one of the start-lines to set off the solar car teams as they were departing the town. Other officials assisted in controlling traffic, ensuring that the general public was able to navigate the town and that the solar teams were able to drive safely - in and out of Graaff-Reinet.
The Sasol Solar Challenge also received a massive support from the community of Jeffery’s Bay, a town that is powered by wind energy. Town officials including the traffic department, were also at the start line, ensuring that the event was running smoothly. One official waved the flag at the start-line as the teams were departing the venue.
Meanwhile, school learners in Riversdale went an extra-mile to design invitation letters to their community, inviting them to come and support the Sasol Solar Challenge in their town. The Laerskool Volschenk sports ground and the street next to the school were painted blue by school uniforms. The learners, supported by their school teachers and families, were singing the South African national anthem and also chanting each solar car name as the cars were departing the start-line of day 6 of the event. The town Deputy Mayor waved the flag to set off the solar cars as they were departing for the official finish line in Cape Town.
Schools Programme during the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge
The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge reached more than 4, 000 learners through its schools programme since the event’s official start on 8 September. The event travelled through 18 different towns across South Africa, engaging young people and inspiring them to get involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Five schools activations were conducted in five of the towns along the route; Sasolburg, Winburg, Middelburg (Eastern Cape), Kirkwood and Knysna. Learners took turns in three stations at each venue to learn about solar technology, e-mobility and robotics in real-life. Each station had toolkits which the learners used as practical examples of robotics and solar energy. Some of the toolkits were provided by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The schools programme ran alongside the event and was conducted in partnership with Microbotics. Microbotics offer robotics, programming and electronic modules for scholars.
The event started with a public expo which took place in Johannesburg, where hundreds of school learners from the Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State provinces came through to witness STEM in real-life.
“The schools programme focuses on hands-on learning of STEM with real-world applications which helps in developing a variety of skill sets among learners, including creativity and problem solving. It aims to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. It was therefore remarkable to see so many young people getting involved and most importantly, excited to participate in the programme,” said Chanté van den Berg, coordinator of the schools programme. “We also appreciate the presence of the school teachers who took part in the programme to transform their skills and knowledge of STEM in order to impart these to their learners.”
Solar car teams’ experiences in the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge
The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge provided the teams with the opportunity to showcase their innovations and technologies while also testing them during the eight-day long endurance challenge. Despite challenges faced during the event, the teams managed to cross the finish line in Cape Town.
Brunel Solar Team
After retaining their title again this year, Brunel Solar Team, formerly known as Nuon/Vattenfall, are now fourth-time champions of the Sasol Solar Challenge - for four consecutive challenges. The team covered a total distance of 4228.2 km.
The team’s biggest challenges in this year’s event were the blind stages and competing among other top solar cars teams from around the world.
“We couldn’t set our strategy for the entire challenge because of the blind stages. This made things difficult for us in terms of implementing daily strategies,” said Lucas Frantzen, team spokesperson.
“Our other challenge was the strong competition with the top teams especially the Belgian team. We had to fight hard each day of the challenge to make sure that we rack-up as many kilometres as possible. We are excited and proud to have achieved the first position and retained our title as champions of the Sasol Solar Challenge.”
Agoria Solar Team
Agoria Solar Team competed in the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge for the first time this year. The team came in at second position with a total distance of 4189.9 km. They were the only team that managed to cover a longest day distance with 609.4 km.
The team encountered a few problems on day one of the challenge when their car got damaged while on their way to the first control-stop. Other setbacks included damage to the solar panel of their car and battery problems.
“Despite all these setbacks, the challenge was really great, and we are incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve as a team,” said Emma Stalmans, team spokesperson. “We learned a huge amount as a team about resilience and how to make the best out of any situation.”
Tshwane University of Technology Solar Team
The Tshwane University of Technology Solar Team went into in the event with a set goal to add a few kilometres on the previous distance that they covered in 2018. They managed to increase their distance with more than 400 km, this year getting a total of 2767.4 km. They also retained their title as local champions of the Sasol Solar Challenge and were nominated to go and compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
The challenges that the team faced in this year’s event included the blind stages.
“The full blind stage caught us off guard. We weren’t prepared for it, if we had better information on what that day would look like, we would have conserved more battery energy to be able to cover the full distance of day five,” said TUT Solar Team manager.
One of the technologies that the team was able to test was their telemetry system, which gave them control of the solar car as they were able to monitor it during the on-road segment.
“The system was able to transfer data from the car to the chase vehicle. This allowed us to measure the speed of the car and plan how many loops we can do, measure the temperature of the car and also do energy protection,” said TUT Solar Team managers.
North West Solar Car Team
The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge was the North West Solar Car Team’s 10th anniversary in the event. The team covered a total distance of 2420.2 km during the eight-day long endurance challenge.
The team’s biggest goal participating in this year’s event, was to drive their solar car from the start-line in Johannesburg down to the finish line in Cape Town.
“We are excited that we managed to drive Naledi 2.0 to the finish line. Driving on public roads with traffic as well was also a challenge. Therefore crossing the finish line was a greatest achievement for us,” said Wynand Grobler, team spokesperson.
During the eight days, the team’s solar car encountered a few technical issues with its connection system, however, the team was able to fix these and got Naledi 2.0 back on the road in two days.
“We put our heads together as a team and came up with a solution. Some of the challenges that we faced included not having proper control of regenerative breaking, system connection problems and limited crew. However, all these challenges served as a motivation for us to learn new skills on the road and improve the team as well as our car for the next Sasol Solar Challenge,” said Grobler.
Genuine JV Solar Car Team
The high school team, Genuine JV Solar Car Team participated in the Sasol Solar Challenge for the first time this year. The team had set a goal to cover a distance of 1, 000 km. They achieved that goal with additional kilometres getting a total of 1243.4 km.
“As first time entrants in the Sasol Solar Challenge and the only high school team this year, we are proud of our performance – achieving our goal and crossing the finish line after the gruelling eight-days,” said Dr Marlize Kantor, team manager. “We look forward to the next Sasol Solar Challenge, and we believe that we have inspired many young minds along the route to join the event in the future.”
SolarFlair participated in the Sasol Solar Challenge for the first time this year and they managed to cover a total distance of 608.5 km. Among other challenges faced by the team of private engineers from Mpumalanga, was receiving their battery pack ten days before scrutineering. The team was on a verge to withdraw from the challenge, however, they were determined to make it to scrutineering and subsequently to the finish line in Cape Town.
“When we finally received our battery pack, we had to work late nights on the car to install and test everything before scrutineering,” said Klasie Botha, team leader. “Other challenges were with the motor of the car, we had to change it four times because of technical challenges. When building the car, we also struggled with balancing structure of the car and its weight, but we are glad that everything came into place and we passed scrutineering and crossed the finish line – our biggest achievements.”
University of Free State Solar Team
Competing for the first time in the Sasol Solar Challenge, the University of the Free State Solar Team’s biggest goal was to complete the challenge and also learn as much as possible about operating a solar car to be able to improve it for future events. The team managed to cover 521.1 km on their first-ever solar challenge.
“Our solar car was built well enough to participate and was reliable enough to complete the challenge. Thus by completing the event without major breakages, and all team members feeling a sense of achievement, we can feel proud of our performance and achievement,” said Dr Hendrik Van Heerden, team leader.
Like any other team, the UFS Solar Team encountered some challenges on the road.
“Some of the challenges regarding our solar car included its heavy weight, efficiency of solar panels and charging of the battery. These problems were difficult to tackle with the small budget that we had for the project. What we learned for future events is to build a lighter car with a bigger energy storage capacity ,”said Van Heerden.
He added that: “Our saddest moment was during scrutineering, when it seemed like we had to pull out from the event due to mechanical issues of the car, but we persevered and passed scrutineering.”
UniChamps Solar Car Team (Unisa)
The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge was the UniChamps Solar Car Team’s first-ever solar challenge. The team participated in the Cruiser Class and covered a total distance of 270.2 km.
Like any other team, scrutineering was the most challenging part for the team. They had to make multiple changes on their car in order to qualify to be on the road for the event.
“This was our first solar challenge, we therefore struggled at first. We didn’t understand some of the event proceedings, and missed on important parts of the regulations for event. However, the greatest thing was when our car was finally approved to be on the road, driving at a speed of 71 km/h,” said Lebogang Lebea, team leader.
Other challenges faced by the team were the up hills that they had to climb from Jeffery’s Bay to Riversdale.
“Our car struggled to fulfil its potential on the up hills. The blind stage was also challenging but interesting at the same time because we gained experience in driving on up hills and now we know where we need to improve for next time. It also helped us to have someone in the team who was familiar with the route – to direct us accordingly,” said Lebea.
Seilatsatsi (Central University of Technology)
The 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge was team Seilatsatsi’s second solar challenge. In both challenges the team won the community engagement award for the demonstration of technologies to hundreds of school learners along the route. They loaded 360° footage shot from their solar car onto virtual reality headsets which school learners from the public expo and the towns along the route used to immerse themselves in the driving experience.
The team, however, couldn’t make it to the finish line due to unforeseen technical glitches on the battery of their solar car, which led to them to withdrawing from the event on day two.
“While this was a major disappointment for the team, it also gave a lot of insight into how things could be improved for the future,” said team leader Nicolaas Luwes. “Overall, the 2022 Sasol Solar Challenge was a great learning experience for each and every member of the team and one which will be consolidated to improve on the next Sasol Solar Challenge.”
Followers of the Sasol Solar Challenge can look forward to the announcement of new dates for the 2024 event, which will be revealed in the next coming weeks.