Solar Sprint Has Students Racing Their Own Sun-powered Cars

solar-powered vehicle

Volunteer Paul Dumas is about to signal the start of the Solar Sprint for Kapolei Middle School student Ciara Alagao, whose model solar-powered vehicle then raced down the 60-foot course. Photo from HECO.

A total of 320 elementary and middle school students working in pairs put their solar-powered vehicles to the test April 26 at Kapolei High School during the Solar Sprint Exhibition.

Forty students from Kapolei Middle School participated.

Sponsored by the state DOE and Hawaiian Electric Co., the event tested the speeds of 160 handmade solar vehicles and gave the students an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and application of science and math to design and create a working sun-powered vehicle.

Ariel Villanueva, an industrial technology teacher at Kapolei Middle, focuses his classes on STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) activities. Villanueva, along with enrichment teachers Wayne Fagaragan and Steve Markham, helped the students during the two weeks they had to build their vehicles.

“In the future they’re going to need to use all these subject areas in the things that they use, the things they do, and the things that they work at,” Villanueva said. “Just having them think and use the information differently is going to help them in any of their endeavors.”

They began with a basic kit consisting of a motor, solar panel and wheels. It was their job to come up with the design. Each pair put their electrical-wiring skills to the test by connecting the small motor to a miniature photovoltaic panel on a bare, lightweight frame.

As if connecting tiny wires to more tiny wires wasn’t enough, they also had to make sure their vehicles made it down the 60-foot runway within 20 seconds, which met the Hawaii Performance Standards established by the DOE. And, if the students met the first standard, during the second run, they had to add 12 ounces of lead weights to the frames in an attempt to run that same course within 35 seconds, twice.

Of the 20 teams from Kapolei Middle School, 14 exceeded the standards and five met the first standard.

“Last year only one succeeded, so it was a big jump this year,” Villanueva explained.

Students from Kapolei and Niu Valley Middle; Waipahu, Wheeler and Kahuku Intermediate; and Laie Elementary schools participated this year.

Part of HECO’s motive is to educate young students about renewable energy, and it has many educational programs and presentations it offers to teachers – some of it based on solar energy and some on energy conservation.

The exhibition demonstrates support for renewable energy education, which is going to be a greater and greater part of the students’ lives as they get older, especially in Hawaii.