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Putting solar tech into overdrive

August 23, 2015

Off-road warrior

Off-road warrior:  Students put SOPHIE V through test drives at the Sha Tin Sewage Treatment Works.

Energy efficient

Energy efficient:  SOPHIE V's 388 brick-sized solar panels enable the car to reach a top speed of 110kph.

Easy breezy

Easy breezy:  SOPHIE V's sleek curves reduce resistance.

Goal oriented

Goal oriented:  Student Hayden Chak will take turns driving the car in the competition, and is eager to see it place in the top three.

Smooth moves

Smooth moves:  Sam Lam is responsible for designing and maintaining the car's suspension system.

Team spirit

Team spirit:  More than 20 students and teachers participated in SOPHIE V's design and production.

Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education students are helping Hong Kong to burnish its reputation as an innovation and technology hub, with a solar-powered electric car poised to race across the Australian Outback into the history books.


The fifth-edition SOPHIE V car sports sleek curves and 388 brick-sized solar panels that enable it to reach a top speed of 110kph and cover 250km on a single charge.


The team involved in its design and production hope this will be enough to put them in the top three at the World Solar Challenge 2015, a six-day 3,000km rally in Australia from Darwin to Adelaide in October.


This iteration of the SOPHIE has four wheels, while previous versions had only three. It looks more like a regular car and has twin seats and storage space - but also more weight. It will take more power to drive the 340kg machine.


The car is not licenced for the open roads, so the team put SOPHIE V through its paces on a straight road at the Sha Tin Sewage Treatment Works over two consecutive weekends. 


Less is more

Hayden Chak, a 23-year-old electrical engineering student, has a key role in the competition, taking turns driving the car with fellow students.


To keep the car as lightweight as possible took much streamlining, he said.


"We used a live camera to replace the rear-view mirrors. To reduce energy consumption, there is no air-conditioning or other electronic equipment. During competition, we will change driver about every three hours. It is an uncomfortable driving experience, but I am honoured to drive this car because our team made it."


SOPHIE V will be shipped to Australia in September. In early October, the whole team - more than 20 students and teachers - will arrive in different batches to receive the car and conduct final tests.


Harsh challenge

The World Solar Challenge has been running biennially since 1987, bringing together education institutes and organisations from around the world. This year, SOPHIE V will compete with top teams from 12 regions, including the US, Germany and Japan.


The rally runs from 8am to 5pm daily. The team must camp out in the grasslands and desert at night in hot weather, posing a physical challenge for them, also. To get fit, they regularly hike together in Hong Kong.


Mechanical engineering student Sam Lam is responsible for designing and maintaining the car's suspension system.


"I hope the car doesn't need repairs during the competition," he said, adding the team was thrilled with the car's successful production.


Innovation boost

Institute of Vocational Education Engineering Department Head Peter Chiu said the competition is a good opportunity for students to acquire real life experience and keep abreast of the latest developments in renewable energy.


SOPHIE V was designed not only for racing, he said, noting that having a passenger seat took the car a step closer to a solar car design that could be used by anyone, any time, anywhere.


The Hong Kong Government is keen to develop the innovation and technology sector, Mr Chiu said. The students' efforts in an international event like the World Solar Challenge helps pave the way not only for the industry, but towards a road-worthy solar car for the masses.