Overview

Solar power is becoming increasingly important to scientists and engineers. Solar energy comes from the sun and photovoltaic (PV) cells (among other ways) can turn sunlight into usable electricity. Solar power is growing in size and importance. As people become more and more interested in preventing climate change, solar energy is being used to power individual homes and stores. While you may have seen buildings, stores, and homes that are powered by PV arrays (groups of solar cells), have you ever seen a car that was powered with solar electricity? Probably not, but engineers have begun focusing on powering vehicles with solar panels.

In this lesson we’re going to show how you can build a solar powered car. There are many challenges to powering a vehicle with solar power. Issues such as the amount of sun available, the efficiency of solar panels (how well they convert sunlight into electricity), and the weight of the solar cells all affect how well the car will run. Improvements and changes to current designs can be improved through work on the mechanical, electrical, and control (computer) design of the car. This exercise will introduce you to solar powered vehicles and the challenges there are to design them. We will start with a basic design to get you started, and talk about ways that you can work to improve the design.

Objectives

In this lab we will accomplish the following:

  • Learn different aspects of the design process.
  • Understand how engineers design new products.
  • Understand how different engineering disciplines work together to produce a product.
  • Introduce basic concepts of solar power.

Materials