back to article Storms blow away 2017 Solar Challenge field

The Reg didn't physically follow this year's Solar Challenge, the biennial solar car race across Australia's dead, red heart. But we did observe this year's event, in which unfavourable weather meant this year's field didn't even get the chance to set speed records. Winning team Nuon Solar from the Netherlands managed an …

  1. Jeroen Braamhaar
    Holmes

    "Team Arrow founder Cameron Tuesley explained the conditions that made finishing so difficult this year, saying “we had 40 degree heat, tropical storms, major thunderstorms, severe cross winds, dust constantly, animals all over the road, major trucks, pretty much everything you can throw at something were thrown at us”."

    In other words, they had all this icky nasty weather that normal vehicles drive through everyday ?

    And that was a problem ?

    *walks away laughing*

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      The reason why they chose the middle of Oz to drive through was to avoid this stuff and I say this to every idiot who laughs at solar powered cars today. Compare what the Wright brothers flew in to a Spitfire or a modern jet. We'll never get solar there if we don't travel the pot hole filled path that leads there.

      1. Jeroen Braamhaar

        If the idea is to get these contraptions ready for actual real world use, wouldn't testing them under real world conditions make more sense ?

        Which they just ran into. And complained bitterly about.

        The Wright Brothers had brass balls of steel to venture into largely unknown territory with things nobody had even tried before. Electric and solar power hass been tried for the better part of 25-30 years and it still doesn't work (and if you believe it does, I'd gleefully remind you of South Australia's ability to keep the lights on), and barring a shift to an absolutist world government decreeing it the winner, it won't (something to do with lack of energy density, overly large dependency on 'just the right' environmental conditions etc)

        But I admit, it makes a wonderful festival parade.

        1. Hans 1 Silver badge

          The Wright Brothers flew mere yards

          Spitfire 660 miles

          Airbus A350 ~20k miles

          Now, the good thing about leccy cars is that you have fewer mechanical parts, the battery and tires need maintenance, that is about it ... batteries are getting better and better ... look at the energy density improvements over the last 30 years ... it has more than doubled and we were not really trying, still are not, not on a big scale, anyway, if you compare to the efforts made to improve the range of petrol cars ... by 2030, no more petrol cars allowed into Paris ... you can mumble all you want, make all the fun you want, but we will see electric cars with ranges of 660 miles before 2030.

          I have the impression you are the one laughing at Henry, holding your horse ...

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "batteries are getting better and better ..."

            30 years ago, it wasn't unusual for solar panel front-runners to completely destroy extremely expensive sets of batteries (tens of thousands of dollars back then) during the course of the race.

            It'd be interesting to see what the degradation factor is on the current generation and if there are rules requiring serviceable capacity to be maintained on the things at the end of the race.

          2. jmch Silver badge

            "we will see electric cars with ranges of 660 miles before 2030"

            Driving 660 miles without topup is very much an edge case. If the battery is too heavy it badly affects your range anyway. I think car companies would eventually provide maybe 500 miles range at most for high-end cars once the technology can sustain it. That's about as much as a modern diesel can go on one tank. Most customers would anyway prefer a cheaper car with less range if they are never going to drive 500 miles at a go. 300 mile range is pretty good if you have fast charging.

            Tesla model S 85D (85kWh) claims 'normal use' range of 270 miles. The electric motors themselves are very well understood and I doubt can increase efficiency noticeably, so theoretical 500 mile range EV needs a battery of about 160kWh. The limit of how heavy the battery can be without making the car impractical is about 500-600kg*, so you need specific energy of at least 266Wh/kg.

            Current Lithium-ion batteries can generate about 160Wh/kg**, so it requires a considerably higher specific energy. Probably it will require a completely new battery technology to get to that energy density, so making it commercially available*** in 12 years is doubtful even for 500 mile range.

            * for comparison, a full tank of petrol might way, say 50kg, and even a pretty big engine will be about 250kg. Additional weight for drivetrain and other ICE-related components not needed on EV approx 100kg more, 400kg total. Tesla's 85kWh battery is 540kg

            **Tesla's battery would work out at about 160Wh/kg , the real value may be more as I guess the battery pack hasome structural elements adding weight. Per wikipedia, 100-234Wh/kg range, I'm guessing the higher ones are experimental

            ***I have no doubt it will be technically possible based on experimental batteries but it needs to be mass-manufactured relatively cheaply to make a mainstream EV

        2. Adam 1 Silver badge

          it's not all or nothing

          Perhaps the trickle down feature to real world cars will be some highly efficient motor or regen energy storage or aerodynamic profile or low rolling resistance tyres or some magic coating that stops dust from sticking or a hundred other things.

          I could make the same arguments about motorsports. What good is a vehicle that needs to be torn down after a few hundred km, that needs special equipment just to start if it stalls etc. But we readily recognise that little breakthroughs while pushing the envelopes can be filtered down into mass produced cars and bikes.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

            Now *that* is a contradiction worth noting :)

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              People don't laugh at the concept of electric cars. Electric motors are a well understood and very efficient technology.

              People laugh at the idea that batteries are going to replace the internal combusion engine on broadly three issues.

              Firstly is range and capacity, which the advocates claim will be resolved by batteries becoming more efficient because they want them to be more efficient, rather than because of any likely acheivable technical progress in the area.

              Second is charging the things in any reasonable and realistic timeframe.

              Third is generating the electrical power required to do the charging while decomissioning most of the generating capacity required to simply keep the lights on at the moment, without factoring in a huge increase in capacity to deal with millions of electric vehicles requiring huge amounts of power. The joke is that the people protesting against building new power plants are generally those for electric vehicles.

              If the power generation required to power the cars was built alongside other infrastructure, and ideas such as powering electric vehicles in high use areas such as motorways and highways by either overhead power as seen in electric trolleybusses from 1880 (which you can still ride on in transport museums to this day)or some other form of power delivery such as induction then people might be less skeptical about the idea.

              As it is, I can't see battery powered EV's working at large scale.

              1. bed

                hollow laughter

                (some) people laugh at the idea that batteries are going to replace the internal combustion(sic) engine.

                Capacity and (therefore) range: Capacity (power density) is increasing at 5-8% per year. If this continues, when power density approaches that of hydrocarbons, the laughter will appear somewhat contrived and hollow.

                Charging times are only an issue because, at present, power density is not good enough. When it is the dynamics change – how often do you fill your car with hydrocarbons? For those people who can charge at home, and whose daily commute is within current capacity, this is already not an issue.

                Thirdly – this is a nonsense statement. When battery density competes with hydrocarbons, batteries (and other storage solutions) will smooth the fluctuations of supply from renewables and demand from consumers.

                1. inmypjs Silver badge

                  Re: hollow laughter

                  "When battery density competes with hydrocarbons"

                  When battery energy density increases about 60 fold you mean - like in about 1200 years at your 5% pa?

                  Gawd am I sick of technically illiterate morons who assume and even plan on the basis that laws of physics can and will be broken with time and money.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: hollow laughter

                    "When battery energy density increases about 60 fold you mean - like in about 1200 years at your 5% pa?"

                    Just 84 years to generate 60x at 5%/year compound.

                    1. inmypjs Silver badge

                      Re: hollow laughter

                      "Just 84 years to generate 60x at 5%/year compound"

                      Thinking it would compound is even sillier than thinking it will carry on indefinitely. Either way batteries end up with infinite capacity which is only a bit more ridiculous than the original claim.

                2. jmch Silver badge

                  Re: hollow laughter

                  "Capacity (power density) is increasing at 5-8% per year. If this continues, when power density approaches that of hydrocarbons"

                  Best Li battery - 234Wh/kg

                  Petrol - almost 13,000 Wh/kg

                  At 8% increase per year even if that is sustainable (highly doubtful) it will take over 50 years.

                  1. Adam 1 Silver badge

                    Re: hollow laughter

                    > Best Li battery - 234Wh/kg

                    > Petrol - almost 13,000 Wh/kg

                    That actually doesn't matter. Actually that's not true. It does matter, but it isn't the blocker issue for practical EVs. We get nowhere near 100% efficiency from an ICE even at the flywheel. Then we lose a whole bunch more through the transmission and drivetrain. Even HCCI is only 50% thermally efficient (don't get me wrong, that is brilliant) but those figures are starting with petrol, not crude, so it isn't true well to wheel figures which need to account for transport and refining. It is really hard to do apples Vs apples, certainly not using those two figures.

                    What currently hurts EVs for range is simply recharge time. If they can get the fast charges to the point where it takes 10 minutes and gives you another 300km, suddenly that plays nicely with fatigue management. I think that is definitely possible and not a ridiculous compromise in most use cases. Alternatively, if manufacturers can agree on a standard then we might even see swap and go battery packs (like we have for BBQ LPG cylinders). That will need machinery to disconnect, swap, then fit the new one. Whilst it'll never be as light as an ICE (all other things equal), having more flexibility over where the weight is put can really help with the dynamics to counter some of the weight penalty. The glass isn't always half empty.

                3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

                  Re: hollow laughter

                  "When battery density competes with hydrocarbons, batteries (and other storage solutions) will smooth the fluctuations of supply from renewables and demand from consumers."

                  Nope, if anything improved battery energy density will make it worse. If we had a lightweight battery that could run an EV for 500 miles (about 200kWh with present motors) and people want to trickle charge overnight from flat, that means a 20kW (80Amp) 'trickle' on a domestic circuit.

                  For a 'fast charge' when on a long journey (5 mins) means a power feed of 2400kW = 10,000 amps! I refuse to stand anywhere nearby, and the pylons will be a major blot on the landscape.

                  Electric cars = good. EVs which you recharge from the mains - going absolutely nowhere.

                  1. jmch Silver badge

                    Re: hollow laughter

                    "Nope, if anything improved battery energy density will make it worse...."

                    Yes, if as OP says, the source is renewables. For example most charging will be at night, when you don't have solar farms online. But most consumption currently is during the day, so EV charging at night would smooth out demand. Bottom line, we need lots of nuclear baseload to underpin supplementary renewable generation.

                    "If... people want to trickle charge overnight from flat"

                    That's an awfully generalised assumption. If people had a 500-mile range EV, most of them would need to fully recharge it every 1-2 weeks. More likely the trickle overnight charge is equivalent to the daily commute (maybe 50 miles not 500), so 2kW required not 20. That's 2 kettles or 1 heater equivalent.

                    "For a 'fast charge' when on a long journey (5 mins) "

                    If someone has just driven 500 miles straight (about 8hrs) it is actually dangerous for them to top up the tank and go, and same for EV. Safe driving guidelines recommend stopping for a rest every few hours, and even if you're switching drivers, you've got to stop for food at some point. 1 hour stop every 8 hours driven is not unreasonable. So requirement goes form 2400kW to 200kW. Current Tesla superchargers reach up to 120kW per car, so 200 is quite a bit more, but not hugely so.

                    And how many people actually have the real need to drive 500 miles and, after 1 hour wait, drive another 500?

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                "Third is generating the electrical power required to do the charging while decomissioning most of the generating capacity required to simply keep the lights on at the moment, without factoring in a huge increase in capacity to deal with millions of electric vehicles requiring huge amounts of power. The joke is that the people protesting against building new power plants are generally those for electric vehicles."

                if you do the math, you'll see that eliminating carbon-based heating (ie: oil and gas furnaces/boilers) and as much carbon-based transport as possible, along with moving carbon-intensive industrial processes to electric heat, you'll need an approximate 6-8 fold increase in electricity generation capacity.

                There is simply no way that renewables can do this even with perfect windmils and 100% efficient solar panels(*) - and you can't pave the african deserts because the 1: economic transportation range of electricity is about 1500 miles at most (there are longer transportation lines, but they're used for grid balancing not bulk supply) and 2: There's more than enough demand south of the Sahara to take it all anyway. (Paving the american deserts won't produce enough electricity to make up the shortfall)

                (*) the absolute best that renewables can do is more-or-less match existing electricity generation capacity

                Any change in energy consumption patterns or population distribution is likely to increase carbon emissions, and there's enough pent-up demand int he developing world to completely eclipse current carbon emissions even if developed countries stopped emitting overnight.

                Which means that in order to save the planet's ecosystem, "we" - as a species - are going to have to embrace civil nuclear power systems pretty much everywhere, and the longer we take to agree on that the worse things are going to get. An anoxic oceanic event won't play out in decades but if we trigger one (and it looks increasingly likely that we may have done already), you can look forward to extinction of most large (over 40kg) land animals over the next 10,000 years - and that includes us.

              3. jmch Silver badge

                @Peter2

                It seems to me that Tesla are already well on the way to resolving issue 1 and 2 that you raise. They are already at the stage where their products satisfy a large amount of (highly) paying customers, and incremental improvements can be made without requiring big breakthroughs. A lot of people don't even need that much range, and the model 3 is addressing that (lower-cost) market.

                As to the third point, even if EVs are powered from electricity generated by fossil fuels, max efficiency of a combined cycle turbine generator is much higher that that of ICE in a car (arounf 50% vs 30-35% I believe). Of course you are right, more generating capacity is needed, some of which can be from solar panels on people's houses, but a lot of which has to come from elsewhere. Nuclear would be good.

                Thumbs up for the 'highways with overhead power' image: Bumping cars :)

        4. Spudley

          If the idea is to get these contraptions ready for actual real world use, wouldn't testing them under real world conditions make more sense ?

          Which they just ran into. And complained bitterly about.

          And yet a dozen of them still managed to complete the challenge, despite the conditions being less than ideal.

          Sounds to me like they're making good progress.

        5. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "Electric and solar power hass been tried for the better part of 25-30 years and it still doesn't work (and if you believe it does, I'd gleefully remind you of South Australia's ability to keep the lights on),"

          Which has a lot more to do with the politics of preferential feed-in tarriffs than actual reality. Those cuts could have been avoided if the gas-fired generation plant didn't stand to lose a shitload of money simply by starting the engines, thanks to projected resumption of wind in less time that it takes to break even on running the generators.

          Giving special rates and priority to intermittent, uncontrollable sources is one thing when they're a tiny proportion of your power generating fleet but with that kind of encouragement the tail quickly grows to the point where it wags the dog. Elon's battery banks will help but they won't solve this. nor will the newly mandated storage systems for new builds. They need to go into older ones too.

      2. WolfFan Silver badge

        We'll never get solar there if we don't travel the pot hole filled path that leads there.

        I doubt that you'll ever get solar there, period. I doubt this because of physics. The solar constant, the average energy density delivered by the Sun at 1 AU, using all frequencies, not just visible light or near infrared, is 1.36 kW/m^2. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_constant) This means that if you had something which was 100% efficient and was hanging in orbit outside of the Earth's atmosphere, you would get 1.36 kW out of each square metre of whatever you use to generate power. (photovoltiacs, solar steam, other heat engine, whatever, I don't care what tech you use, the MAX you can get is 1.36 kW per square metre. There ain't no more.) You are NOT going to get 1.36 kW at the Earth's surface, the atmosphere will gulp a lot of that, the exact percentage varying dependent on atmospheric conditions, altitude, and a host of other factors. You are NOT going to get 100% efficiency; the record is, last I heard, 46%, and most commercial photovoltaics get under 18%. Let's be optimistic and say 25%; that 1.36 kW which you aren't going to get is really 340 W which you aren't going to get. That's half a fucking horsepower. That means that to have an engine as powerful as a bloody 5 hp lawnmower engine you will need TEN BLOODY SQUARE METRES OF WHATEVER YOU USE TO COLLECT SOLAR ENERGY. (That's 3.4 kW or so...) Actually, more than that. It gets worse. You have to store power for use when it's dark or rainy or whatever, so you need a lot more collection area to power the batteries you're going to need. My car, a Toyota, is 4.5 metres long, bumper-to-bumper, and 1.8 metres wide, max. If it was a perfect rectangle, which it's not, it would have a 8.1 square metre topside surface area... including the glass bits at front, back, and sides that I need to use to see out of. It has an engine which develops in excess of 140 kW. So the solar cells would require something bigger than my Toyota, but having 2.4% of the power. It ain't gonna go very far, and it ain't gonna go very fast. Hill climbing? What's that?

        I have not calculated the weight of the solar collector, or of the system needed to align the collector for best efficiency (no alignment? Cool. Cut another 15-25% off of the power you can collect...) or of the batteries or of, well, anything. All I have considered is how big it would have to be to produce power, unless there's some magic pixie dust which will multiply the solar constant.

        Putting solar collectors on cars will never be practical, according to physics, unless someone can show me where my calculations are incorrect. It might work if you put the solar collectors at home base, and put a lot of batteries in the car and charged them that way, but having solar collectors on a vehicle will result in having impractical toys, nothing more.

        It's not a Wright Bros-Spit-Concorde thing; physics says that you have 1.36 kW/m^2 to play with. Max. Count on having less, often a lot less. Aircraft have no similar limitation. Even if you somehow magically get 100% conversion (good luck with that...) that would bring the size of the collector needed for a 5 hp motor to 2.5 square metres. If the entire topside surface area of my Toyota was solar collectors, and if those collectors were 100% efficient, that would be a 16 hp (12 kW) motor, less than a tenth the power of the one in the Toyota right now. The Toyota is not the most nippy machine ever made. A solar-powered car would be considerably less nippy.

        Sorry, but solar cars are not practical, and will never be practical, unless you can repeal physics.

        I invite those who like solar cars to point out errors in my calculations.

        1. Adam 1 Silver badge

          > Sorry, but solar cars are not practical, and will never be practical, unless you can repeal physics.

          Ah, but physics is just applied mathematics and the commendable laws of mathematics do not apply down here.

        2. Jtom Bronze badge

          Thank you. I get bloody irritated at those who start at the bottom, use Moore's law, then declare we will soon be powered by solar. As you so clearly described, there is a hard, upper limit, and a top-down analysis is needed. If 100% of the solar energy hitting the ground were coverted to electricity (an impossible efficiency rate), powering the city of Singapore would require panels covering land three times the size of that city. But you need twice that so you can provide power through the night. Plus land for the electrical storage (batteries) for that nighttime power. And that's without electric cars.

          Move on, people. Solar is for niche markets, not a source for primary power needs.

    2. sabroni Silver badge

      re: *walks away laughing*

      back to the 20th century?

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Ye canna cheat the laws of physics...

      Yes, okay, people laughed at betamax and the sinclair car, but look what happened to them! (Okay, bad examples...)

      Ho hum. I'd love to see them try 300km across Northern Europe.

      There is one wee problem with solar powered cars - solar power. Even covering every spare surface with panels you'll be lucky to generate 2kW peak, on a sunny day. Allow for reality (not all cars get parked in full sunshine, cloud, sub-optimal orientation etc) and I'd be surprised if you can manage more than about 6kWh on a typical European day around London. Which will get you about 20-30 miles in a typical EV. Fully loaded with kids, shopping, junk etc, even less.

      So, you're going to need to top up from other sources anyway. So why not put the panels in the garden/on the roof/ on a mountain connected to the grid where they can be optimally sited all the time and then recharge from that? Saves the faff of engineering panels onto the car and is much more efficient.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ye canna cheat the laws of physics...

        >I'd be surprised if you can manage more than about 6kWh

        >on a typical European day around London.

        >Which will get you about 20-30 miles

        The upper end of that is just about my weekly total commuting distance.

        However, I agree that (with present technology) it doesn't seem to make sense to drag the generating panels around along with everything else.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    WTF?

    Parsing fail

    "The Reg didn't physically follow this year's Solar Challenge, the biennial solar car race across Australia's dead, red heart. But we did follow this year's event,i"

    Contradiction detected. Re-write needed.

    1. Jon 37

      Re: Parsing fail

      "Follow" has two meanings. It can mean physically travelling to various spots along the course so you see the cars with your unaided eyes at multiple locations along the course, or it can mean reading about the event and / or watching it on TV etc. They didn't do the first, they did the second.

      I agree their wording is extremely awkward and requires far too much thinking to understand it.

      1. Hans 1 Silver badge

        Re: Parsing fail

        I agree their wording is extremely awkward and requires far too much thinking to understand it.

        Feynman, did not know this was the daily fail or torygraph ... too much thinking > WTF ??????

        We know they followed previous iterations closely, this one, not so closely ... hello, how does this require "thinking" ? Should be obvious, right ?

    2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Parsing fail

      Had to re-read it three times until I understood what they're trying to say.

      Maybe they're doing a Dabbsy on us?

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Note the "Cruiser" class is close to conventional road worthy IE crash safety and range

    Also note, most of the leaders in both categories are from countries not noted for their sun.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Note the "Cruiser" class is close to conventional road worthy IE crash safety and range

      > Also note, most of the leaders in both categories are from countries not noted for their sun.

      Well, that stands to reason: because they have so little sun they have to use solar cells that are more efficient.

  4. Oldfogey
    Boffin

    Much better....

    Forget the solar panels - install deKalb receptors!

    (Now lets see who gets that)

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Much better....

      Only if Mr. Farthingwaite-Jones allows it. He has the patent.

    2. T-Bo

      Re: Much better....

      ... or aorist rods, perhaps?

  5. unwarranted triumphalism

    With you everything is impossible.

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