Johannesburg - For the theorists and the motoring journalists lucky enough to get up close and personal with these amazing vehicles, it's like a journey into the future. For the crews it's very much here and now, as they tackle the daily challenges and frustrations of a 2000km road trip in experimental cars.
This is the Sasol Solar Challenge, a biennial South African showcase for alternative energy that alternates with the World Solar Challenge in Australia. All the cars are powered by solar panels and batteries, and are designed by university students who are studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
For eight days, from 24 September to 1 October, 14 teams will travel across the country in a convoy of about of about 350 drivers, engineers, technicians, computer geeks and meteorologists, in a bid to clock up the most distance. Each team will have a least one support vehicle; some have two - one devoted solely to telemetry and weather strategy.
To finish, teams must complete the 2000km route from Pretoria to Cape Town; some cars will cover more than 4000km through loops along the route.
The top teams will use complex strategies, up-to-the-minute weather maps and even real-time satellite imaging of cloud cover to ensure that their cars can finish each day's leg without running out of amps, despite intermittent sunlight and power-sapping hills - and even do an extra loop or two to put some kilometres in the bank for the final tally in Cape Town. And they have to do it on public roads, in traffic, while complying with all traffic rules.
Held under the auspices of the Federation International de l 'Automobile, the challenge tests - and raises - the limits of energy engineering.
The 2016 SA Solar Challenge has attracted 14 entries - eight from South Africa, and the rest from Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and Northern Cyprus.
Desert Lizard - PI 21 Solar Team, South Africa
Eagle One - Lodz Solar Team, Poland
Ilanga II - University of Johannesburg, South Africa
MegaLux - GAMF, Hungary
MUT Green Car - Mangosuthu University of Technology, South Africa
Nuna 8S - Nuon Solar Team, the Netherlands
Ra27 - North East University, Cyprus
Sirius X25 - North-West University, South Africa
Solar Eagle - Maragon Olympus, South Africa
Sonnenbrand III - Deutsche International Schule Johannesburg, South Africa
Sun Chaser 2 - Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa
Sunatolia 3 - Anadolu, Turkey
Tokai Challenger - Tokai University Solar Team, Japan
ZingBug - ZingCo Electric Vehicle, South Africa
‘The power of innovative thinking’
"The Challenge aims to showcase the power of innovative thinking, and the role that science and engineering can play in providing alternative solutions to existing challenges,” said Sasol senior vice-president for public affairs Wrenelle Stander. "This is where innovation meets engineering excellence."
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