The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and local water agencies saw 46 regional high schools compete in the ninth annual Solar Cup challenge, The competition challenges high schoolers to build and racesolar-powered boats on Metropolitan’s Lake Skinner reservoir. Thecompetition is funded by the water district to raise awareness of bothsolar power and water conservation.
Don’t expect these one-man boats to take on the Turanor PlanetSolar, the first solar-powered boat to traverse the Pacific Ocean on the sun’s power, or don’t expect them to take on cigarette boats any time soon.Their top-speed is about 15 miles an hour, according to Julie Miller,Metropolitan’s Solar Cup coordinator. “In past years its been about 13or 15 miles an hour. It’s very rarely 15,” she said. But the competition is the largest in which high school teams compete to build and racesolar-powered boats in rookie and veteran divisions.
The competition was formed after a former general manager ofMetropolitan saw a similar collegiate event, according to Miller. “Hethought we could do this on our reservoir with high school kids andthat’s where it came from,” she said.
This year’s winners were veterans Savanna High School in Anaheim androokies Oak Park High School in Oak Park. But there were some otherthings afoot that showed the competitive yet friendly nature of therace. For instance a team from Long Beach Polytechnic high school hadissues with their battery pack. “They fried both the batteries for thesprint race. Another team had an extra set and let Long Beach usethem.…It’s not just about my team beating your team its about [makingsure everyone can participate],” Miller said.
Each team is subject to some of the same conditions, Metropolitansupplies each team with an identical plywood watercraft kit. “Everybodyhas to use the same hull.…They have to choose the motor, battery andsolar panels,” Miller said. “They [i.e., the boats] can only have amaximum output of 320 watts on the solar panels,” she said. In addition, the battery weight is limited to 55 pounds.
Returning teams receive $2,500 to support the costs of building thecraft and any other materials needed. “Rookie” teams get $4,000 to cover the costs of photovoltaics and other costs, according to Miller.
The water district chose to hold the competition for a number ofreasons. “One of the main reasons is it promotes clean energy technology on a drinking-water reservoir. We’re kind of introducing students tosolar energy and another green technology which would make our drinkingwater cleaner,” Miller said. “Probably the bigger goal now for thedistrict is workforce development. Public agencies have so many babyboomers that are going to retire, that…workforce development has become a high priority for Metropolitan.”
Image of California Academy of Math and Science’s boat comes courtesy of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California