Solar Team Spreads the Word About Solar Energy

2012 Finalist: Excellence In Science And Technology Public Awareness

Jillian Stephenson joined the interdisciplinary, student-run University of Calgary Solar Team because she was inspired by the work the team was doing to increase awareness about solar energy. Since then the natural sciences student has increased her responsibilities and is now the communications manager and proud of the success she and the team are having.

“Everyone who comes onto the team has the same goal,” Ms. Stephenson explains. “We want to push for the progress of sustainable technologies in the city, the province and the country. We are trying our best for the sustainability of the environment.”

Since the project started in 2004, University of Calgary students have made innovative designs and construction techniques for three solar cars and consistently push themselves to evolve. The team extends this passion and experience to the community through numerous community events and school visits in Calgary and across Alberta. Members directly interact with thousands of people through school visits and community involvement.

“Our presentations serve as opportunities to educate the community about sustainable energy,” Jillian says. “Children and adults alike are captivated with the sight of a solar car up close and they can learn first-hand from the students who build and race these solar vehicles.”

This encourages discussions about recent advancements in solar technology and how the technology can make a difference for people in their everyday lives. Solar Team members’ stories from their races add excitement and lead into conversations about the use of science and technology in the project.

The 40 volunteer members that comprise the Solar Team are undergraduate students at the University of Calgary from a variety of faculties, primarily from the Schulich School of Engineering and Haskayne School of Business. They continuously research, implement and improve upon previously used technologies, which provides them with the opportunity to apply concepts learned in class to real life challenges.

“Everyone on the team works off each other,” Jillian says. “We have great passion, not only to build and race the solar cars, but to tell different communities about the potential of sustainable energy use.”

The team is now working on the design of their fourth generation solar car, which will include some of the comforts of a typical automobile. Through this new design, the Solar Team will further engage the public to see sustainable energy technology as a viable option to replace carbon fuels.

In continuing it’s outreach work, the team began the Canadian Solar Car Alliance, a forum for solar car teams from across the country to work together to advance each team’s technology and practices. This provides opportunities to learn from other’s experiences and expertise as each team navigates new technologies, construction methods, and team structures.

The Solar Team has competed in six solar challenges on two continents with international media attention. Most recently, the team took the top Canadian placing in the 2011 World Solar Challenge, a 3,000-kilometre solar race across the Australian Outback.