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Australia World Solar Challenge
Apr 2013

With the depletion of fossil-fuel resources and the rising cost of power, the use of renewable energy sources such as solar are set to dramatically increase in the near future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that solar energy, which currently accounts for only 0.1% of global power consumption, will increase to 1.2% by 2030. Australia, with the world’s highest solar radiation per square metre, leads the way in harnessing the sun’s power. The country’s uptake of solar energy is anticipated by the IEA to rise by almost 6% per year to 24PJ by 2030. Recognising the importance of solar energy, the IVE’s Engineering Discipline has been heavily involved in staying abreast of the solar technology development with its SOPHIE (Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle) project. This year, students from the Department of Engineering will travel to Australia to compete in the World Solar Challenge 2013 and put the theory into practice.

Rapid technological advancement

The SOPHIE project was first conceived at IVE in 2009,and has had to keep up with rapid technological developments over the past few years. The Department of Engineering recently held an exhibition at the Tsing Yi Campus to showcase students’ work that culminated in the release of the fourth-generation solar-powered vehicle: SOPHIE IV. Ir Peter TANG, Project Manager of the solar vehicle team explained, “This new model primarily uses carbon fibre for the chassis, as opposed to the steel frame used in SOPHIE III—making it much lighter, and also incorporates enhanced steering and suspension designs.”

TANG highlighted the significance of the project in that it had already produced very strong results in terms of promoting the use of solar technology and that the engineering knowhow gained from this project is likely to be useful for broader industry development and applications. The new vehicle utilises a new lithium-ion battery—with a higher energy density than previous models—helping retain the maximum possible energy inside the unit.

Mr YEUNG Wing Tai, a final-year student in HD in Mechanical Engineering working on the SOPHIE project agreed, “There have been significant enhancements to this year’s model. The new vehicle collects information digitally, utilises a specially designed solar-energy converter and benefits from a significantly higher battery density.”

Desert endurance race

IVE students will travel to Australia in October for the World Solar Challenge 2013—a six-day, 3,000 km race from Darwin to Adelaide across the Australian Outback. This roughly equates to the teams making a round-trip from Hong Kong to Beijing. Each student within the team has a specific role, examples being Mr Kaka FONG holding responsibility for the electro mechanics and programming, and Mr Coki WONG being in charge of calculating the power and driving force of the vehicle.

The World Solar Challenge is aptly named as one of the most difficult events of its type in the world, as such, it presents an extraordinary experience for IVE students. TANG commented, “By encouraging the students to participate in the competition, we provide a unique opportunity for them to broaden their horizons and gain a global vision and knowledge of the international solar-power market. Additionally, it helps them learn about different cultures and working styles.” The competition also fosters the spirit of teamwork and endurance among the students and enhances their ability to think quickly on their feet to handle unexpected technical problems.

Mr Kelvin TO, one of the project supervisors, remarked, “Students usually just work on projects for their internal school assignments, but this time they are creating something that is actually going to run on a highway and enter a global competition. This is a far more meaningful experience for them.”

YEUNG observed that working on the SOPHIE project and entering the competition had given other student sand himself the opportunity to apply the theory they had learnt into practise through producing a road vehicle. He summarised, “We don’t see many solar vehicles in the Hong Kong Region. The use of solar energy to power vehicles is a huge, and much needed, technological development. We hope that through our efforts solar-powered vehicles will become more widely adopted in the near future.

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