Solar Powering More Than Race Cars

DOE volunteer Clara Goto (standing) prepares to signal the test race as Wheeler Middle School student Shianne Valero readies her vehicle April 18 at HECO's Solar Sprint at Kapolei High School. Photo courtesy of Janet Crawford.

Sun power and brain power were put to the test this spring during the annual Solar Sprint exhibition at Kapolei High School, where hundreds of seventh- and eighth-graders raced their handmade model solar-powered vehicles.

Supported by a mini photovoltaic panel and a small electric motor, each entry had to travel a 20-meter course within 20 seconds – that’s about three feet per second. Students could add lead weights to attempt the 35-second race as well.

“I chose one seventh-grade class to participate in the project based on the students’ enthusiasm, listening skills and behavior,” said John Lee, Wheeler Middle School industrial arts teacher. “These are high achievers. They all

did well at learning and applying science and math principles, and they’re all exceeding the Solar Sprint standards.”

Regardless of their “real” learning, the students enjoyed bringing their designs for the lightweight, bare-frame racers to life.

And the lesson (shhh!) was all about energy. “Educational programs such as the Solar Sprint demonstrate Hawaiian Electric’s support for renewable energy,” said HECO project administrator Cybil Rawlins. “We want to help teach students how the sun’s energy is converted into useful electrical energy.”

Sponsored by the DOE and HECO, the April 18 races also attracted teams from Kahuku High and Intermediate, Laie Elementary, and Niu Valley and Kapolei middle schools.