UNSW solar car sets a record for lowest energy consumption

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sunswift solar car team cruised into the record books on December 7.

Arriving at Sydney’s McMahon’s Point, having driven from Perth, they set a Guinness World Record for the lowest energy consumption while driving across Australia in an electric car.

Despite a number of setbacks over the past year, including a rear suspension failure during the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge and a battery fire in October, the team of 14 students completed the 4100km journey without a hitch and two days ahead of schedule.

UNSW mechanical engineering student, Courtney Morris, said it was always so nerve-wracking to see the car, that they built, on the road.

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“I’m always afraid that something could change at any moment, but it all went pretty well and the team dynamic was great,” said Morris.

The car, named Violet, is the sixth-generation solar car built by Sunswift, a student-led initiative at UNSW, now in its 22nd year.

To set the record, the team had to keep the car’s energy consumption to under 5.5kWh/100km.

Actual energy consumption throughout the journey was an average of 3.25kWh/100km, which is about 17 times less than an average Australian car.

Travelling an average of 600km a day, Violet used about the same energy per day as that of a standard household (20-24kWh).

The cost to run the car from Perth to Sydney was also economical, at well under $50.

UNSW dean of engineering, Mark Hoffman, said it’s not a production car and you have to kind of handle it like a horse in order to manage it on public roads.

“These students have pushed the boundaries of modern engineering and proven that solar powered cars are likely to be a big part of Australia’s motoring future,” said Hoffman.

“They worked extremely hard to prepare for this journey and despite setbacks, they’ve shown resilience, bounced back like professionals and got on with the job.  This is what a university degree should entail – actual, hands-on experience and overcoming real-world challenges. I am incredibly proud of the calibre of young adults we have studying here at UNSW,” he said.

Computer science honours student, Hayden Smith, said driving into Sydney was the best part of the trip.

“That’s when it finally clicked that we had crossed the country in just six days – that’s 4100km. In a car built by students,” he said.

“Violet is lively on the road a lot, it’s not a production car and you have to kind of handle it like a horse in order to manage it on public roads,” said Smith.