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University Solar Team Switches Focus From Competition to Near-Production Ready Vehicle; Changing the Solar-Powered Paradigm

The new Sunstang is a three-wheel, fully electric, single-passenger vehicle. Click to enlarge.

After 17 years of building solar cars to enter into competitions—the World Solar Challenge and the American Solar Challenge—the Sunstang solar team at The University of Western Ontario is shifting its focus to developing a near production-ready commuter vehicle.

This next-generation Sunstang is based on the team’s re-evaluation of the solar-powered vehicle paradigm. Rather than trying to use solar cells to provide power directly to the vehicle, the new Sunstang will use a removable battery system which will be recharged by a residential solar charging stations. One battery pack will remain on the charging station, while the other is in the car.

The issue with the competitions is that the difference between our car, which was basically the lowest budget possible, to the cars that were winning is the solar panels and that’s it.

—Geoff Gauthier, project manager for the Sunstang

Efficiency to cost ratio. Source: Sunstang team. Click to enlarge.

Today’s solar race vehicles are nearing a technical saturation point in which little improvement can be made without a growth in efficiency of the solar panels, the Sunstang team says. The team calculated that the cost of solar panels grows nearly exponentially with an increase in efficiency. Not only does this create major issues for racing vehicles, it suggests that applying these technologies directly to a practical vehicle would be in vain, the team concluded. Hence, the switch in the solar-powered model to using swappable batteries recharged by home solar stations.

The new Sunstang is a three-wheel, fully electric single passenger vehicle with a steel chassis and composite body. The car will be powered by a 10.5 kW CSIRO motor designed for solar racing. The car has a top speed of 135 km/h (83 mph) and can drive approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) based on a speed of 120 km/h (75 mph) or up to almost 300 km (186 miles) in the city on a fully-charged battery.

The interior will be similar to a traditional car: it will have more than two cubic meters of storage space and a spare tire.

Sunstang has received a $10,000 donation from Yokohama Tire (Canada) Inc., which distributes tires for high performance, passenger car, commercial and off-road vehicles. Yokohama is considering designing and producing a tire specifically for the new Sunstang project.

The group plans to drive the vehicle across Canada in August or September to raise awareness and build exposure for the team. There are 32 members from the Faculty of Engineering and other faculties across campus working on the design and production.

At this point, the group has finished its design and is manufacturing the vehicle. The battery system is in the designing process.



The major problems with inductive charging are added cost, inefficiency (conversion and transmission) and EMF worries. If you have a choice of paying $2500 for an inductive system with 30% losses or $200 for a retractable cable on a reel with roughly 100% efficiency, what would you choose? Especially when your avant-garde neighbor with the drive-on charger complains about the heat in the garage in the morning?

Mondern industrial robots are more than capable of inserting a plug into a receptacle. Sooner or later the conductive charging system is going to be just as convenient as inductive, and a whole lot more efficient. The only way induction can compete is if it can be installed in the road to charge while vehicles are in motion, and at today's cost of road repair I don't see it happening.


Yes but in the road, it is STILL wastes 30% and is still expensive.

Henry Gibson


Yes. Connectors in the pavement. Some streetcars in France do this and non electronic versions were available a century ago. Forty-eight volts direct current is not highly dangerous, but modern electronics and robotics allow safe current control and automatic connection at low cost in any case. ..HG..


At 48 volts, you'd need kiloamp currents to power individual vehicles. That has problems all its own. Higher voltages are necessary.

If you go from rubber tires on pavement to steel wheels on rail, you can use the rail as the return path for power from a single overhead wire. This also handles your lateral guidance and can carry much heavier loads. The improvement in safety and maintenance ought to be able to pay for lots of new infrastructure.


Maybe plug in at every stop light with electronic billing like those California toll roads

Maybe sell the rights to vendors.

Instead of driving around to get gas at 5 cents less a gallon, we would follow routes with the cheapest hookups.

"I'm late for work cuz my Fastrak-GPS routed me thru Barstow."

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