When it comes to alternative fuel technologies, solar power usually comes up short of hydrogen fuel cells or battery-powered exotics. Despite our unpredictable weather, Canada’s place in the solar-car kingdom is excellent, with a couple of universities putting in outstanding performances not only in North America, but against the world’s best.

The University of Waterloo, located in Canada’s technology capital in Waterloo, Ont., has over 20 years of experience in designing, building and competing with solar-powered racecars. Starting with the inaugural General Motors Sunrayce Challenge in 1990, the Midnight Sun team is the only Canadian solar-car team to consistently have qualified and raced in every North American event. And, the team set a Guinness World Record in 2004 by travelling 15,070 km back and forth across the United States for 41 straight days, the longest single journey made by a solar-powered vehicle, and more than double the previous record.

Midnight Sun’s co-business manager Cody Bryant said he was quickly attracted to the program.

“I had always had a keen interest in cars and the opportunity to work with such a unique project appealed greatly to me,” he said.

The team consists of 30 core members, with more than 200 student volunteers participating in the program’s two-year cycle. Waterloo is usually the top Canadian team during the North American Solar Challenge (NASC) and the World Solar Challenge (WSC), held every other year in Australia.

If Waterloo represents the Yankees of the Canadian solar-car competitions, the University of Calgary must be like the Florida Marlins: relatively new on the scene, but already fighting with and beating the heavyweights.

While only having built two cars to Waterloo’s nine, Calgary’s team has made their efforts count, being the first rookies to complete an NASC in 2005, and finishing the 2005 WSC first in class with their Soleon racecar. After building Schulich 1 in 2007, U of C was the top-ranking Canadian team in the ’07 WSC, upsetting Waterloo in the process.

“We currently have approximately 35 students working on the engineering team, and about 10 students working on the business team, all from a variety of faculties,” says Jeff Wickenheiser, project co-chair and engineering manager for the University of Calgary team.

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