Stellar Performer

The Big Picture

Photo by Hans-Peter van Velthoven

If past performance is any indication of future results, you are looking at the winner of the 2007 World Solar Challenge, to be held this coming 21 October. The 3000-kilometer race is run every two years, slicing north to south through the dusty red heart of Australia. Like all the racers, this slick number, called Nuna4, is powered entirely by the sun’s rays. It is the latest eco-speedster from the Nuon Solar Team, which is based at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The Nuon team has won all of the three contests held since 2001.

Nuna3, which won in 2005 with an average speed of 103 kilometers per hour, did so well that it scared race ­officials into changing the rules. It briefly and unofficially hit 145 km/h (90 miles per hour)—”freakishly fast,” notes Oliver van der Meer, a member of the Nuon team. The speed limit on many Australian highways is 110 km/h. So for this year’s race, drivers have to wear crash helmets and sit upright under a protective roll cage—which explains the ­relatively tall rear cockpit bulge of Nuna4 as compared with its flatter predecessors. Solar panels have also been limited to 6 square meters per vehicle. ”It’s really an engineering competition now,” van der Meer says.

For more on the Nuon Solar Team and the 2007 race, see http://spectrum.ieee.org/jun07/5273.

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