Engineering a future

Competing in a solar challenge

Creating a sustainable solution
solar power
A group of university students are counting down the days before the solar powered vehicle they have designed and built, is put to the ultimate test in an epic two-week race across the most demanding terrain in South Africa. 

Their car, the Illanga II, inspired by the Zulu word for the Sun, will be amongst the twelve local and international vehicles competing in the race. “As a global leader in environmental technologies, Siemens, along with other major South African companies like Eskom and MTN, is proud to be supporting the team of students in this exciting project to help promote innovation and engineering excellence in South Africa’s renewable energy market,” says Siegmar Proebstl, CEO of Siemens Africa.

Held every two years under the auspices of Motorsport South Africa and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the Sasol Solar Challenge is an eco-efficiency race that allows teams from around the world to congregate and demonstrate the sophistication and performance of solar powered vehicles. It is ranked as one of the best events of its kind in the world and is aimed at educating people in the areas of science, innovation, teamwork business principles and encourages collaboration between universities, private sectors and government. 

Through collaboration with undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Engineering Sciences, Industrial Design, Marketing and I.T. departments, UJ has been designing and building alternative energy vehicles to compete in the race while at the same time establishing a knowledge centre of competence and expertise in alternative energy.

With the roll-out of the South African Independent Power Producers Programme major investments are being made into renewable energy projects, especially in wind and solar power. “We are not only focussing on being a technology provider to these projects, it’s important that we invest in the skills development and training of the local engineers and technicians required to build and maintain these wind and solar plants,” says Proebstl. 

The Sasol Solar Challenge and UJ’s participation is helping increase awareness of energy efficiency and environmentally friendly technologies. “It’s an ideal platform to promote engineering as an exciting career choice and encourage young people to further their studies in science and technology related fields,” adds Proebstl.

Green solutions have become the growth drivers for the global economy and climate change is transforming green technologies into the leading industry of the 21st century. In areas such energy and electricity supply, South Africa and other African countries can leap-frog to more efficient technologies and avoid some of the mistakes made by other developed countries. A force propelling the green technologies industry and renewable energy development is the potential to create new industries and generate thousands of new jobs.

“This is a fun way to introduce alternative energy and sustainable engineering to the students at an early stage in their careers,” says Nickey Janse van Rensburg, a lecturer in mechanical engineering at UJ. She believes it is essential to emphasise the importance of sustainable product development and green design to engineering students. 

The development of sustainable products and solutions is important for various industries and all relevant sectors have to get on board to create a low-carbon economy. “This project is giving students hands-on experience that will be valuable when they enter the industry and is teaching them soft-skills, like effective communication and team work”.

The Sasol Solar Challenge will start in Pretoria on the 18 September. Major towns and cities that the vehicles will pass through include Upington, Cape Town, East London, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg, Secunda and Witbank. The race will make its way back to Pretoria and end on the 28th of September. Siemens is a sponsor of the UJ Solar team for the 2012 and 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge. 
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