Australia and the rest of the world is experiencing rapid climate change. Since the middle of the 1900s, temperatures in Australia have been on the rise. There has been an increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, and a decrease in frosts and cold days. Rain has also been affected – the north-western territories have seen an increase in rainfall over the last 50 or so years, while large parts of the east and far south-west have experienced a decline.
In 2005, Australia recorded its warmest year on record, and 2009 was the second warmest year on record, all of which put the last ten years as Australia’s warmest decade – not that in itself is unusual. Each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the preceding one.
Enter the World Solar Challenge, a friendly competition where cars, powered only by the sun and kinetic energy, race from Darwin to Adelaide. The World Solar Challenge’s main objective is to draw attention to the imperatives of sustainable transport – like solar and electric-powered vehicles – in response to global climate change. The event is one of the most prestigious of its kind, and attracts the best technical universities and colleges the world over. Teams come from as far as Canada, the United States, Turkey and Japan in order to compete.
Contestants in the World Solar Challenge – who are driving, arguably, the most efficient electric vehicles in the world – undertake a roughly 3,000 kilometre journey. Once they and their self-sufficient teams leave Darwin, they must travel as far as they can until 5 p.m., where they make camp in the desert. During the journey, there are seven mandatory check points, where team managers may update themselves on the weather and their own position in the field.
Promoting sustainability by example
The World Solar Challenge promotes research into zero-emission transport solutions. The Challenge, and its associated events, seeks to feature the many technologies that are designed to lighten the impact of transport on the environment. In the business of sustainability, an integral objective is to do more with less. The World Solar Challenge shares this objective – doing more with less is their key mission. They seek to promote acceptance of environmental sustainability by showing the world what’s possible. They want technologies used in the Solar Challenge to find their way into the production cars of tomorrow.
The World Solar Challenge passes through remote, ecologically sensitive areas of Australia, but the organizers are careful not to do any damage to the environment on their way through. The event discourages the use of disposable materials, and teams are required to file both personal waste management strategies, and environmental management plans that deal with any hazardous waste and other pollutants that may be produced as a result of their participation in the challenge.
Logistics demand the use of more than solar powered vehicles in running the event as pace cars and support vehicles, but wherever possible, these other vehicles are ones that have minimal environmental impact. Of course, these vehicles still produce carbon from the consumption of fossil fuels. But The World Solar Challenge doesn’t ignore its own environmental responsibility. To offset this direct environmental impact, the World Solar Challenge participates in a tree-planting program.