Solar Vehicle Team builds and races sun-powered cars

Rebecca Fu

A group of students is building a solar-powered car that can function, drive and even race — all while creating minimal waste.

Each school year, UT’s Solar Vehicle Team builds solar-powered cars to race in both cross-country and track competitions. This year, the group is improving their current car, the TexSun, and working on an entirely new vehicle.

According to Cynthia Luu, electrical engineering junior and team president, the club tends to attract engineers, but it is open to students of all disciplines. Despite focusing her studies on electrical engineering, Luu said she started out on the team by working on the body of the car. 

Ross Miglin, mechanical engineering freshman and team member, said the group adopts a trial-by-fire approach to learning the ropes. 

“I crawled under the body of the vehicle and stared at the wheel for 30 minutes,” Miglin said. “Eventually, through asking a lot of questions, I figured it out.”

Much of the work on the car is done independently by different subgroups within the team. Luu said the teams develop each aspect of the car from scratch.

Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

For Alejandro Silveyra, electrical engineering junior and team member, the collaboration among the subgroups drastically enriches the process.

“The biggest reward is [learning] how to work well with teams,” Silveyra said. “It’s not possible to know everything about the project by yourself. You have to start trusting others and know that they can make their own decisions.”

Although creating a car from scratch requires a lot of foresight. Sliveyra said exhaustive planning doesn’t hold the team back.

“I’m not saying planning is not important,” Silveyra said. “The actual point is to create something. It’s a really laid back team, but we get stuff done.”

Despite the varied aspects of production, Angus Ranson, electrical engineering senior and team member, said the common goal of creating a functioning solar-powered car unites the team.

“For each individual, their reason for making the car is different,” Ranson said. “Each individual’s reason that they’re doing it is collectively ours.”

The members agreed that the team’s focus sets it apart. While solar-powered vehicles present many challenges, they present exciting new opportunities, according to Silveyra. 

“We’re in an area that no companies are trying to figure out,” Silveyra said. “It’s not viable at the moment, it’s too expensive, and it doesn’t make sense. I think, while [we are] having fun racing cars, we’re creating an idea that could be used later.”

Solar-powered cars are still not considered mainstream vehicles. No major car company has ever released a vehicle that runs entirely on solar power.

Nevertheless, Miglin said he is confident in the future of solar-powered cars.

“My goal in the future is to pick up a girl for a date in a fully solar car,” he said. “It’s going to happen someday.”

Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff