The Panasonic World Solar Challenge culminated today with the fourth straight win by Delft University’s Nuon Solar Team. The challenge pits university engineering students against one another to see who can cross 3,000 kilometers of Australian outback, from Darwin to Adelaide.
More than simply an engineering challenge, the contest tests technologies that could help fight against pollution. Automobiles are the source of roughly 30 percent of smog-forming nitrogen.
An interesting technology development with this year’s winner is the new high-efficiency solar cells that they used. They are dual junction and triple junction gallium arsenide cells that have multiple layers. The sunlight that passes through the top layer is captured by the second or third layer, making sure that no solar energy is wasted. The team also uses Maximum Power Point Tracker (MPPT) that adjust the attitude of the solar panels to the sun to maximize sun exposure and energy output.
The sponsor of the Dutch team, Nuon, is an electric utility that supplies energy to homes in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The company advocates the use of alternative energy such as wind and solar power.
A similar race, the North American Solar Challenge, is planned for the summer of 2008 from Dallas, Texas to Calgary, Alberta.