The American Solar Challenge

Once every two years, teams from various research establishments and universities across America get together to participate in the American Solar Challenge (“ASC“). In order to enter each team has to design, build and race (or ‘rayce’ in solar race terminology) a solar-powered car in this exciting and fun cross-country event.

The inaugural race was held in 1990 and was originally called a “Sunrayce“. The first Sunrayce was organized and sponsored by General Motors and the continued existence of the race is a testament to the success of this historic event. Thus far the Sunrayce has been held on a regular basis every two years with the exception of the first two races which had a three-year time gap between them.

In 2001 the race was renamed the ‘American Solar Challenge’ and it has since been sponsored by the United States Department of Energy as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The benefits of this prestigious event have become apparent over the years because each year the competition reveals new inventions, concepts and designs that are exhibited and carefully evaluated for their scientific and commercial potential. Since 2005 the race has gained the additional sponsorship of Natural Resources Canada and it has been renamed the ‘North American Solar Challenge’.

Most team participants are from universities throughout United States and Canada. These universities offer ideal testing grounds since students are often able to devise with creative, new and inspiring concepts and they are unconstrained by the limitations of commercial entities.

For 2005, the North American Solar Challenge requires concept cars to travel across the United States and well into Canada – which tests all design and mechanical aspects of the entrants. The cars are required, not only to travel long distances, but also judged according to efficiency.

Over the years, the performance of the automobiles has drastically improved. The first winner of the event was “Sunrunner” – built by the University of Michigan. The Sunrunner recorded an average speed of 24.7 mph over 1800 miles.

In 2005, the race spanned an impressive 2494.9 miles and was won yet again by the University of Michigan. That year, the average race speed 46.2 mph. Rules limit that maximum speed of the vehicles to 65 mph and both of the top two teams in the 2005 race managed to reach and maintain this speed.

Event organizers, participants and industry sponsors hope that this competition will improve the research and design of cars and will one day allow consumers to enjoy solar power automobiles without polluting the earth’s atmosphere, negatively impacting global warming or degrading our limited natural resources.

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