altE Helps High School Team Building Solar Car

Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge participating teams

Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge participating teams

The Grosse Pointe South High School Sun Devils were one of a few school teams selected in the country to participate in the Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge. The 2013 race took place in July when individual teams traveled from Dallas, Texas to Los Angeles, California in roadworthy solar cars that they built themselves.

The captain of the Sun Devils team, contacted altE and we agreed to donate a Morningstar TriStar TS-MPPT-45 Charge Controller along with a Remote Digital Meter to go along with their TriStar Charge Controller.

Five members of the Sun Devils team made the cross country trip with their finished product. Below is an interview with team members about their car’s PV system specifics, what goes into the planning and building of a solar car and what they have gained from the process.

We are so honored to have played a small role in helping this remarkable team and are so very proud of the Sun Devils completing their first Solar Car Challenge!

The Sun Devils team is already hard at work preparing for next years competition. Best of luck to the Sun Devils team at the next Solar Car Challenge!

How many team members make up the Sun Devils?
Throughout the course of the year, we had a peak membership of 40 members who helped to design and fundraise for the project. During the building of the car though, we had a core of about 12 students. On the trip from Texas to LA, 5 team members traveled down.

Please tell us a little bit about your team and how you worked together. Did you have divided tasks/expertise or all do a little of everything?
During the fundraising and design process, the team was divided into three groups: Chasity, electrical, and fundraising. The groups were designed to be fluid, so by the end of the year, all of the members received experience in all the areas. In this way, students received a more comprehensive understanding of all the elements it took to build a car.

Tell us about the Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge race requirements for the car and how you met these requirements.
The primary goal of the requirements the Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge had was to ensure the driver’s safety. To do this, they required certain structural components, including crush zones and a roll cage. In effect, they required us to build a completely street legal car. Furthermore, there were limitations put on the efficiency of the solar panels (<18%) and the batteries. To meet these requirements, we focused much of the year on designing the car, and finding the different parts that would both fit our design and meet their regulations. In the end, due to our focus on following the rules, we were one of the first teams to get approved by the racing organization to race.

What size PV system did you build to power the car? How many modules of what size (watts)? How many batteries? Other equipment/details?
To power the car we built a 1.2 kW PV system consisting of 12 panels, each 100 W. The efficiency of the panels were rated at 15.4%. To hold the charge, we used four 12V, 85 amp/hr, flooded lead acid batteries arranged into a 48V system. Our electric motor was a brushed DC with a max output of 17.4 hp (although we ran it at about 2 hp continuously).

Did the Morningstar Charge Controller that altE provided work for your system?
The Morningstar Charge Controller provided by altE was probably the most reliable equipment we had, as it was one of the few things we had no trouble with over the whole course of the building and race. The controller was easy to set up and use. We especially liked its display, as it allowed us to know our power input in real time, which was helpful in gauging charging details during the race. In addition, I must comment on its durability – over hundreds of miles through the desert, experiencing heat, sand, rain (weird day in New Mexico), and bumps in the road, the controller had no problems whatsoever. Again, we would like to thank all of you at altE for providing such a quality device, as it most certainly helped us complete the race.

How long did it take for you to complete the car from planning to finished product?
We started holding meetings for fundraising and designing last September. Due to numerous factors, this initial phase lasted until June 1st, when we finally started to build the car. From June 1st until we left for Texas on July 18th, we worked almost every day (and night in some cases) to complete the car.

How many people can ride in the car? How fast can it travel? How many miles can it travel on a full charge/per day? Are there any other related details you would like to add about the car itself?
The car is designed for one person, although seats on the back of the car may be added for our schools’ upcoming homecoming parade. It has top speed of 35 mph, with an optimal cruising speed around 18 mph. During the race, with a full charge and plenty of sun, we drove over 75 miles in one day. One restricting factor of the car was its weight. As this was our first year, we over-engineered the car to make sure it was stable, but this negatively affected our range and speed. As a result one of our central goals this year is to reduce the weight of our new car.

Did you run into any issues with the solar powered car along the way? How did you overcome them?
During the race, we encountered some mechanical issues, including a bolt holding our motor falling off and a terminal on one of the batteries becoming faulty. With these issues, both of which had to be solved on the side of the highway, we had to incorporate a system to ensure our safety and solve the problem. The first step was to set up traffic cones and put in place a flagger to warn oncoming cars to slow down, which helped keep the people working on the car safe. Next, to fix the car, we often had to quickly improvise solutions with the limited resources we had. For example, when a bolt holding our motor fell off, we lost the bolt, so we had to use a spare bolt of a different size to accommodate the issue. As can be seen, this process required coordination among the team to solve the problem as quickly as possible. In both cases, we fixed the problem and continued on with the race.

What was/were the most challenging part(s) of the project?
The most challenging part of the project was to gain outside support. As this was our first year, many potential contributors were wary of giving financial support to our group, as we had no past achievements to show them. Because of this, we are extremely appreciative to all our initial supporters, including altE, as the support we gained from you helped us get started and work toward our goals.

What was/were the most rewarding part(s) of the project?
For us, there were two specific events of the project that were the most rewarding. The first event was the first test drive of the car. With so many things going against us and many people in our own community doubting our ambitions, when we finally built the car and drove it, all our worries vanished away. From then on, we knew we could accomplish anything. The next monumental moment was the first day at the Texas Motor speedway. As our car drove around the track, we finally realized we had done it. All our hard work paid off.

What did you learn from working on this project?
Personally, I have learned more from this project than any other class or activity. Throughout the process, I have learned all the essentials to build and design a working car, how to utilize solar energy, how to weld, and how to think like an engineer. In addition, exposure to fundraising has helped me communicate better and develop better ‘people’ skills. Overall, this project has taught me that if I want to do something, the only thing required is the ambition and the willingness to work hard. These experiences from this project have already influenced how I think, who I am, and what I want to do in the future, and will continue to resonate throughout my life.

Is there anything else you wish to add?
Thank you for supporting us during this inaugural year. Your support significantly helped us achieve our goals, and the experience altE helped create for all team members will be remembered for years to come. We hope that altE can continue to be a core sponsor for this year to create a lasting experience of engineering and alternative energy for the next generation.