What looks like a sleek little bug and is covered by solar cells? A: The solar cars of today racing in North America!
ICP sponsors just such a car which is in redevelopment at McGill University here in Montreal and that’s why its not in the current race. Bombardier, another quebec based company, is currently helping redesign the shell afterwhich we’ll be able to determine the solar cell needs of the vehicle. Canadian Tire, a retailer that got into solar thanks to ICP back in 1994, is also involved in the sponsorship of this initiative. Numerous other companies support the car in many ways.
What is the value of such races if only to serve as a promotional tool for solar? Multiple! Firstly, the university teams develop a keen understanding of the 3 components of power (as mentioned in my previous blog entry “Watt is Power“). Second teamwork skills, in very demanding circumstances, are honed. Third, it’s a platform for everyday people to see how solar energy is progressing as a technology of the future.
Unfortunately, there’s also a flip side. Because of the current limitations of the “power formula“, the solar cars can only house one driver if they are to go at a decent speed, must be made of materials that would not protect as well as today’s normal cars in case of accident and have limited manoeuvring capabilities. Some will say that this actually serves to lessen solar as seen as a valid technology for cars, yet I would argue the reverse. These are “extreme” uses of solar for automobiles. As anyone whose been following my company, ICP Solar, will tell you, solar battery trickle charging is where its at today in terms of automotive applications.
ICP currently makes such items for car makers, having been selected from a number of other companies, mainly because we understand the automotive environment and how the solar cell interacts with the automotible battery. We even supply Winnebago with their RV solar panels to prevent batteries from going dead while on the dealer lots (they call this “rot lot”) or while you store your RV in the winter months.
So let’s all encourage our university students to get involved in solar, even if its unlikely that you or your kids will ever drive a totally solar powered car.