Solar powered car racing events continue to gain in popularity the world over.  They say racing improves the breed and this is no exception.  What is clear from the make up of the teams below, is that most of the development of solar racers is undertaken by university teams.  It seems this is a young engineers sport and that the cars of the future are being developed without any major assistance from the big car makers, but with sponsorship from educational institutions and business.

World Solar Challenge Trophy


World Solar Challenge Trophy








Aristotle Uni of Thessaloniki, Helios


Faculty of Engineering

Arizona Solar Racing Team - USA

Arizona Solar Racing Team

Ashiya University - Japan

Sky Ace TIGA

Solar Car Project

Auburn University

Sol of Auburn

Sol of Auburn

Aurora Team, Australia


Aurora Vehicle Association

Bochum Solar Car Team

Das SolarCar der Fachhochschule

California Poly S University

SLO Burn  Sidewinder

San Luis Obispo

Cambridge University

Eco Racing Team

Clarkson Uni Solar Car Team, USA

The Solar Knights

Delft University - Holland

NUNA I & II 2003

Dell Winston School

The Hunter

Solar Car Challenge

Desert Rose, Northern Territory Uni


Drexel SunDragon Home Page

Durham University

Solar Car Racing Team

École de technologie supérieure Quebec

Eclipse V (5)

Éclipse Vehicular Solaire 

École Polytechnique de Montréal


Eko-Auto  Poland


Electron Analytic Corporation

Dark Horse

EAC Skunkworks

George Washington University

George Washington Uni Solar Car

Georgia Institute of Technology

Solar Jackets

Solar Jackets

GWAWR Cymru solar car

Solar Car

Heliodet, Germany


Heliodet, Solar Car Team

Helios - Lille, France

Hélios IV

Hautes Etudes d'Ingénieur

Heliox Solar Car Team


Dominic de Vries

Honda Car Company


Illinois State University

Surya, Ratha, Mercury

Illinois State University Team

Iowa State University


Team PrISUm

Jonasun  Japan


Solar Car Paviion

Kansas State University


Solar Car Racing Team


Solar Wing

Los Altos Academy of Engineering

Los Altos Solar Car Team

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



McGill University Monteal, Canada


Team iSun

McMaster University


McMaster Uni Solar Car Project

Messiah College Grantham, Penns

Genesis II

Genesis II Solar Racing Team

Michigan State University


Solar Racing Team

Michigan Technological University

Solar Car Team

Minnesota S Uni-Mankato/Winona S Uni

Minnesota Solar Car Team

North Dakota State University

The Double Deuce

Sunsetters - Solar Race Team

Northwestern University


Northwestern University

Nuon Solar Team, Netherlands

Nuon 3

Het Nuon Solar Team

Osaka Sangyo University, Japan

OSU model S

Solar Car Team

Prairie View A&M University


Sun Panthers

Principia College

RA 6

Principia College Solar Car Team

Purdue University


Purdue University Solar Racing

Queen's University Canada

Radiance  Gemini

Queen's Solar Vehicle Team

Red River College 

Red River Raycer

Red River College Solar Car Team

Rice University

Rice University

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Rose-Hulman Solar Car Team

Southern Illinois Uni Edwardsville

Cougar Cruiser

Southern Illinois University

South Bank University, UK

Mad Dog

South Bank Mad Dog Team

South Dakota School Mines & Tech

Solar Motion

South Dakota Solar Motion Team

Southern Taiwan University Tech

Southern Taiwan Solar Team

Stanford University


Stanford Solar Car Project

Tamagawa University - Japan

Tamagawa Solar Challenge Project

Team Futura, Italy


Team Futura

Team Solaris

 Solaris 1 & 2

Dokuz Eylül & Ege University

Team SunLake - Japan

Phaethon model

Team SunLake TOYOBO

Texas A&M University

Columbia Sunraycer

Texas A&M Motorsports Team

The Power of One  - Toronto


The Xof1 solar car team

Tufts University


Nerd Girls

University of Alberta

University of Alberta Team

University of Arizona


Solar Racing Team

University of Calgary


UC Calgary Solar Car Team

University of California-Berkeley


California Calsol Team

University of Delhi

Project Solaris 

University of Kansas

Solution, CATalyst

KSU Solar Car Racing Team

University of Kentucky

Gato del Sol II

Solar Car Team

University of Massachusetts 

Spirit of Mass 413

Lowell Solar Racing Team

University of Michigan


University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Borealis III

U of M Solar Vehicle Project

University of Missouri Columbia

Suntiger VI

The Mizzou Solar Car Project

University of Missouri Rolla

Solar Miner V

Solar Minor Car Team 

University of North Dakota

Subzero 3

Team SubZero

University of Ontario Institute of Tech

UOI Solar Vehicle Team

Uni of New South Wales SCR Team

UNSW Sunswift III

New South Wales SCR Team

University of Patras, Hermes

Solar Car Team

University of Pennsylvania


Penn Solar Racing

University of Queensland


Queensland Solar Team

University of South Australia


SA Solar Car Consortium

University of Tehran

Persian Gazelle

University of Texas at Austin

Solar Steer

Solar Vehicles Team

University of Texas at El Paso



University of Toronto

Blue Sky

Blue Sky Solar Racing

University of Toulouse


Heliotrope Solar Car Team

University of Utah 


Vehicle Design Team Utah

University of Virginia


UVa Solar Car Team

University of Waterloo

Midnight Sun VIII

Midnight Sun Solar Race Team

University of Western Ontario


Sunstang USP Solar Car Team

USP Solar Car Team

USP Solar Car Team

Western Michigan University

Sunseeker 05

W Michigan Solar Car Team

Yale University

The John Lee

Team Lux






About solar powered cars








Solar cars were first built by universities and auto manufacturers. These early constructors soon realised that the sun energy collector areas were too large for consumer cars, however that is slowly changing.  Development continues on solar cell design and car power supply requirements such as heaters or air-conditioning fans, which we take for granted on conventional IC cars.





Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins were the first solar car racers who completed a Solar Trek from Perth to Sydney, Australia in 1983. 


Next in 1986, Denis Bartel drove the first solar powered vehicle named 'The Spirit of Adelaide", to cross Australia from North to South (Darwin to Adelaide).  



Denis Bartel and 'The Spirit of Adelaide' - Alice Springs 1986


Denis Bartel and 'The Spirit of Adelaide' - Alice Springs 1986



In part, this was a tribute to a famous explorer; John McDouall Stuart, who on horseback opened up the centre of Australia in 1861,  to the 100th anniversary of the motor car, and to celebrate South Australia’s 150th Jubilee Year


Then in the 1987 race, the GM Sunraycer completed the same North-South 3010 km trip with an average speed of 67 kmh, setting the scene for an extensive research and development program among the teams.


Sunlight is an excellent energy source, providing 1,000 watts per square meter on bright days.  Hence, the future of using solar power is very exciting, except that to date conversion efficiencies are around the 18% mark for commercially priced cells. Solar-powered cars all get their fuel from the same place - the Sun. The cars use hundreds of photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Each cell produces about half a volt of electricity.


When the Solar Race teams design their electrical systems they have to allow for variations in sunlight. The Sun's energy powers the car's motor and charges a battery for use when the Sun is hidden by a cloud. If a car is designed to put all of its energy toward driving and keeps nothing in reserve, it will come to a halt in cloudy weather.  If too much energy is diverted to the battery, the engine runs too slowly to keep up in the race.  The ratio of energy stored and energy used directly, is therefore quite an important compromise.


While engineers and still have many problems to tackle before solar power becomes an efficient and economical way to fuel vehicles, it is hoped that the constant development from racing events, will hasten a solution.  The best bit about  using solar power for transportation is that it's pollution free and inexhaustible.



The Solar Wing, Japanese electric racing car





A solar car is an electric vehicle powered by solar energy obtained from solar panels on the car. Solar cars are not currently a practical form of transportation as they can only operate during the day and can only carry one or two passengers. However, they are raced in competitions such as the World Solar Challenge and the American Solar Challenge. These events are often sponsored by Government agencies such as the United States Department of Energy keen to promote the development of alternative energy technology such as solar cells. Such challenges are often entered by universities to develop their students engineering and technological skills as well as motor vehicle manufacturers such as GM and Honda.


Driver's cockpit


Driver's cockpits are normally single-seat with a few cars containing room for a second passenger. They are hot from the solar panel and very cramped with few of the comforts of a normal automobile. They contain some of the features available to drivers of traditional vehicles such as brakes, accelerator, signals, rear view mirrors, ventilation and often cruise control. They also have a two way radio for communication with their support crews.


Solar cars are fitted with gauges seen in conventional motor cars and the driver's main priority is to keep an eye on these gauges to spot possible problems. Drivers also have a safety harness and optionally a helmet similar to racing car drivers.



Electrical system


The electrical system is the most important part of the car's systems as it controls all of the power that comes into and leaves the system. The battery pack plays the same role in a solar car that a petrol tank plays in a normal car in storing power for future use. Solar cars use a range of batteries including lead-acid batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH), Nickel-Cadmium batteries (NiCd), Lithium ion batteries and Lithium polymer batteries. Lead-acid batteries are less expensive and easier to work with but have less power to weight ratio. Typically, solar cars use voltages between 84 and 170 volts.


Power electronics monitor and regulate the car's electricity. Components of the power electronics include the peak power trackers, the motor controller and the data acquisition system.


The peak power trackers manage the power coming from the solar array to maximize the power and either deliver it to be stored in the battery or used in the motor. They also protect the batteries from overcharging. The motor controller manages the electricity flowing to the motor according to signals flowing from the accelerator.


Many solar cars have complex data acquisition systems that monitor the whole electrical system while even the most basic cars have systems that provide information on battery voltage and current to the driver. One such system utilizes Controller Area Network (CAN).


Drive train


The setup of the motor and transmission is unique in solar cars. The electric motor normally drives only one wheel at the back of the car due to the low amount of power it generates. Solar car motors are normally rated at between 2 and 5 hp (1 and 3 kW) and the most common type of motor is a dual-winding DC brushless. The dual-winding motor is sometimes also used as a transmission because multi-geared transmissions are rarely used.


There are three basic types of transmissions used in solar cars:

  • a single reduction direct drive

  • a variable ratio drive belt

  • a hub motor

There are several varieties of each type. The most common is the direct drive transmission.



Honda solar powered racing car, Darwin to Adelaide World Solar Challenge



Mechanical systems


The mechanical systems are designed to keep friction and weight to a minimum while maintaining strength. Designers normally use titanium and composites to ensure a good strength-to-weight ratio.


Solar cars usually have three wheels, but some have four. Three wheelers usually have two front wheels and one rear wheel: the front wheels steer and the rear wheel follows. Four wheel vehicles are set up like normal cars or similarly to three wheeled vehicles with the two rear wheels close together.


Solar cars have a wide range of suspensions because of varying bodies and chassis. The most common front suspension is the double-A-arm suspension found in traditional cars. The rear suspension is often a trailer-arm suspension found in motor cycles.


Solar cars are required to meet rigorous standards for brakes. Disc brakes are the most commonly used due to their good braking ability and ability to adjust. Mechanical and hydraulic brakes are both widely used with the brakes designed to move freely by minimise brake drag.


Steering systems for solar cars also vary. The major design factors for steering systems are efficiency, reliability and precision alignment to minimise tire wear and power loss. The popularity of solar car racing has led to some tire manufacturers designing tires for solar vehicles. This has increased overall safety and performance.






First manned electrically powered flight

"The world is our oyster"



Solar array


The solar array consists of hundreds of photovoltaic solar cells converting sunlight into electricity. Cars can use a variety of solar cell technologies; most often polycrystalline silicon, monocrystalline silicon, or gallium arsenide. The cells are wired together into strings while strings are often wired together to form a panel. Panels normally have voltages close to the nominal battery voltage. The main aim is to get as many cells in as small a space as possible. Designers encapsulate the cells to protect them from the weather and breakage.


Designing a solar array isn't as easy as just stringing bunch of cells together. A solar array acts like a lot of very small batteries all hooked together in series. The total voltage produced is the sum of all cell voltages. The problem is that if a single cell is in shadow it acts like a diode, blocking the flow of current for the entire string of cells. To correct against this, array designers use by-pass diodes in parallel with smaller segments of the string of cells, allowing current to flow around the non-functioning cell(s). Another consideration is that the battery itself can force current backwards through the array unless there are blocking diodes put at the end of each panel.


The power produced by the solar array depends on the weather conditions, the position of the sun and the capacity of the array. At noon on a bright day, a good array can produce over 2 kilowatts (2.6 hp).


Bodies and chassis


Solar cars have very distinctive shapes as there are no established standards for design. Designers aim to minimise drag, maximise exposure to the sun, minimise weight and make vehicles as safe as possible.


In chassis design the aim is to maximise strength and safety while keeping the weight as low as possible. There are three main types of chassis:


  • space frame

  • semi-monocoque or carbon beam

  • monocoque


The space frame uses a welded or tubed structure to support the body which is a lightweight composite shell attached to the body separately and the loads. The semi-monocoque chassis uses composite beams and bulkheads to support the weight and is integrated into the belly with the top sections often being attached to the body. A monocoque structure uses the body of the car to support the weight.


Composite materials are widely used in solar cars. Carbon fibre, Kevlar and fibreglass are common composite structural materials while foam and honeycomb are commonly used filler materials. Epoxy resins are used to bond these materials together. Carbon fibre and kevlar structures can be as strong as steel but with a much lighter weight.



Auburn University solar powered racing car



Race Strategy


Optimizing energy consumption is of prime importance in a solar car race. Therefore it is very important to be able to closely monitor the speed, energy consumption, energy intake from solar panel, among other things in real time. Some teams employ sophisticated telemetry that automatically keeps a follow vehicle continuously up to date on the state of the car.


The strategy employed depends upon the race rules and conditions. Most solar car races have set starting and stopping points where the objective is to reach the final point in the least amount of total time. Since aerodynamic forces rise expontially with speed, the energy the car consumes also rises exponentially. This simple fact means that the optimum strategy is to travel at a single steady speed during all phases of the race. Given the varied conditions in all races and the limited (and constantly changing) supply of energy, most teams have race speed optimization programs that continuously update the team on how fast the vehicle should be traveling.


Solar pioneer and desert walker, Denis Bartell


Solar car races


The two most notable solar car races are the World Solar Challenge and the North American Solar Challenge. They are contested by a variety of university and corporate teams. Corporate teams contest the race to give its design teams experience in working with both alternative energy sources and advanced materials. GM and Honda are among the companies who have sponsored solar teams. University teams enter the races because it gives their students experience in designing high technology cars and working with environmental and advanced materials technology. These races are often sponsored by agencies such as the US Department of Energy keen to promote renewable energy sources.


The cars require intensive support teams similar in size to professional motor racing teams. This is especially the case with the World Solar Challenge where sections of the race run through very remote country.


There are other races, such as Suzuka and Phaethon. Suzuka is a yearly track race in Japan and Phaethon was part of the Cultural Olympiad in Greece right before the 2004 Olympics.


The 2005 North American Solar Challenge had two classses:


  • Open: where teams are allowed to use space-grade solar cells - won by the University of Michigan.

  • Stock: limits the type of cells that can be used on solar arrays - won by Stanford University.





A dream can make all the difference under the sun - when a bunch of high school misfits in Hawaii, introduced by their new teacher (Halle Berry), attend a science fair in which they draw up inspiration to build their own solar car and win a trip to compete in the 1990 World Solar Challenge in Australia. One of my favourites.







A solar powered Cycle







SunDay 1998

Sun@Work on the Web

Photovoltaics Special Research Centre

International Solar Energy Society

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Clean Cars and Sustainable Energy Vehicles

Solar Century - Photovoltaic Installations in the UK

Phebus - Photovoltaic Installations in France

Build A Solar Car

South Bank University Research Centres

Don's Autopages  A comprehensive record breaking directory.

European Space Agency






Nelson Kruschandl - EV designer


The World's fastest solar powered car

the "Blueplanet Ecostar"







1. Chassis - and seating

2. Mechanics - suspension, steering, brakes

3. Motor and drive train

4. Motor controller

5. Solar Array - usually part of body

6. Batteries or fuel cells

7. Electrical System - and instruments

8. Driver Controls - switches, lighting, etc

9. Bodywork - Screen, etc






Sunseeker solar car Michigan University










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The content of this website is copyright © 1991 and 2013 Electrick Publications. All rights reserved. The bird logo and name Blueplanet Ecostar are trademarks.  The BE2 and BE3 vehicle shape and configuration are registered designs ®.  All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged.  Max Energy Limited is an educational charity.