In the Atacama

Chile hosts South America's first ever solar endurance race

Eleven vehicles will battle it out in two categories in an attempt to finish the 600 mile course in the shortest amount of time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 Category: Enviroment
The race will take place in the Atacama Desert. (Photo: Mel Toledo/Flickr) The race will take place in the Atacama Desert. (Photo: Mel Toledo/Flickr)

Eleven solar powered vehicles from five different countries have gathered in Chile for South America's first ever solar endurance race.

On Friday September 30, the high-tech cars will set off from the ghost town of Humberstone on a 660 mile (1,060 km) journey across the Atacama Desert, passing through the cities of Antofagasta and Calama before arriving in Iquique on October 2.

A joint effort of the Universidad de Chile, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Corporación La Ruta Solar, the inaugural Atacama Solar Challenge aims to promote the use of renewable energy. The high profile event has drawn competitors from universities and private companies in Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Chile.

The 11 cars taking part in the race will compete in two categories: “La Ruta Solar” (The Solar Path) for vehicles using a combination of solar energy and human power and “Desafio Solar Atacama” (Atacama Solar Challenge) for cars relying totally on solar energy.

“The Atacama Desert has the highest levels of solar radiation in the world,” race coordinator Leandro Valencia told La Tercera. “It's strange that we haven't held a race of this type in the country before, but we are learning a lot from this experience.”

According to the competition's rules, the cars competing in the race must complete a set distance each day between 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., taking as little time as possible. If the vehicles fail to reach the end of the stage, they will be towed to the starting point for the next day’s leg. The winning cars in each category will be the ones that complete the 660 mile circuit in the least amount of time.

“The great thing about the race is that it is all about endurance,” Valencia told La Tercera. “The teams have to find the optimum speed that enables them to use the energy efficiently.”

Speaking at the race's official launch in Santiago, Chile's Energy Minister Rodrigo Alvarez told local press it was crucial to continue advancing the use of renewable energy.

“It is the dream of all Chileans to have cleaner, cheaper and more sustainable energy to aid our development,” he said.

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