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Students Race for Solar (and Life) Knowledge in Riverside County

This past weekend, students from 41 Southern California high schools participated in the 13th Annual Solar Cup race, held on Lake Skinner at Temecula, near Winchester in Riverside County.

Teams from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties, operating boats powered totally by solar energy, competed in the race, which is sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California.

Past Competitors in the Annual Solar Cup Race (Photo: Solar Cup website)

Past Competitors in the Annual Solar Cup Race (Photo: Solar Cup website:

The event was the culmination of a seven-month educational program for the teams, which started in October 2014. Newcomer teams and veterans competed in separate divisions, and all participants were sponsored by a water district or other utility. The program’s goal is for participants to learn, according to the program’s website, “about conservation of natural resources, electrical and mechanical engineering, problem solving” and other skills. The competition originally began in 2002 with just eight high schools and about 100 students participating. For the 2015 event, about 1000 students enrolled.

The competing crafts are all 16-foot-long single-seat boats, constructed with kits made of marine-grade plywood supplied by MWD. During the events, only one “skipper” can be present in each boat, but a team is required to equip the boats with steering, solar panels, batteries and motors. The motors may produce up to 320 watts, and the maximum weight of the boats, including the skipper, cannot exceed 450 pounds. The competition was held over three days, and consisted of the qualifying event (Friday), the endurance race using solar panels (Saturday), and the sprint race, using battery power without the panels, followed by the awards ceremony (Sunday).

Solar Cup coordinator Julie Miller was quoted as saying, “Solar Cup supplements textbook curriculum with hands-on experience giving these bright students an opportunity to learn about California’s natural resources, while fostering an interest in science, math, environmental and engineering careers.” Fred Olmedo, an engineering teacher at McBride High School in Long Beach, said, “This is as close as it gets to real life, in my opinion. [The students] are really using their critical-thinking skills [and] problem-solving skills. I mean, it’s just like the whole nine yards…It’s what you would want in an engineer.” One challenge the McBride students faced involved the solar controller and battery, which were ordered from China… and arrived without instructions. The students figured out what to do, partly from the Internet, but mostly by their own ingenuity.


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