What is it?/Is that a boat?
It is a solar car that runs 100% off of power generated from solar energy. And no, it's not a boat.
What does Gato del Sol mean?
Gato del Sol is the 1982 Kentucky Derby winning thoroughbred and the namesake for our car. Stone Farm, who raised Gato del Sol, has been a longtime supporter of the University of Kentucky Solar Car Team. Gato Del Sol also translates to English as "Cat of the Sun", which is a very fitting name for Wildcats racing on the power of solar energy.
How does the car work?
The power comes in from the solar cells and is sent through a wire to the motor. When we drive, we try to operate the car with just this energy. If the solar cells cannot provide enough power (accelerating, fast driving), then we have to get the extra energy from our batteries. If we don't need all of the power the solar cells are producing (braking, sitting at a stoplight), then we charge the batteries. This is all controlled by the car's on-board computers so the driver can focus on driving.
How does solar power work?
A solar cell produces power by converting sunlight into electricity. When sunlight, which is composed of photons, strikes a solar cell, the photons are either reflected or absorbed. The absorbed photons' energy is transferred to an electron which is contained inside the solar cell. With the new energy, the electron is able to "escape" its original position and become part of the current produced by the solar cell.
How fast can it go?
There are actually two answers to that question! Gato VI has both a "cruising speed" and a "max speed". Our cruising speed is how fast we can go on a perfectly clear, sunny day and not use more energy than we are getting from the sun. The cruising speed for Gato VI is roughly 35 mph/56 kph. We've never actually hit our max speed for Gato VI due to speed limits during races, but we estimate we could go about 81 mph/130 kph in perfect conditions.
Why don't you put a small person in the car to save weight and make the car more efficient?
The rules say that every driver has to weigh 176 lbs. If he/she is under that weight, ballast must be added so that every driver from every team weighs the same.
What is that popping sound when the car moves?
Brushless motors move because of pulses that the motor controller sends to it. Those pulses produce the AWESOME popping sound that will eventually progress into a hum as the car speeds up.
Does it have air conditioning?
No. Air conditioning wastes a lot of energy and has no place in our vehicle. Instead, we have well-placed vents that keep the driver cool when moving.
How many people work on it?
There are currently around 30 active members. Before a car's completion, more than 50 University of Kentucky students will contribute to the production.
When will we see a car like this for the everyday consumer?
It will likely be a very long time. Even though the sun's energy makes life on Earth possible, today's best solar panels money can buy are only around 35% efficient when it comes to capturing all the energy the sun emits. And even if we did have 100% efficient solar panels the general number for power density of sunlight is 1000W/m^2. If it were possible to harness all of that power, a typical sedan would have to run off 10-20 hp. This is far less than the consumer cars on the market.
But don't let that discourage you. Many of the technologies and innovations pushed by Solar Car Racing eventually make it to consumer cars. The new Toyota Prius includes a solar roof to power some of the auxiliary parts. All hybrid cars make use of regenerative braking. In Solar Car Racing, we strive for high efficiency wherever possible. In a consumer car, this equates to highly increased MPG (for an ICE car) or M/kWH (for an EV car).