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The Race For Humanity’s Future: Solar-Powered World Records

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While looking something up for another article, I fell into a very interesting rabbit hole: the Guinness World Records website. If you’re old enough to remember a time when there wasn’t an internet connection in every home and classroom (and almost every pocket), you probably remember finding a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records at the library. Full of interesting factoids and pictures, that book made many children (and children at heart) happy and well-entertained over the years. In other words, it’s an easy rabbit hole to get your foot stuck in!

What’s different today compared to my elementary school encounters with Guinness is that renewable energy has a much bigger presence in the world. Back in the day, elementary school kids would gawk at things like the people who grew their fingernails the longest, or the people who engaged in the biggest pillow fight ever. While such records do have entertainment value, their value in other areas of life are rather limited. But, we’re increasingly seeing Guinness records that matter, because they deal with efficiency.

As most of us know here, switching to renewables and being less wasteful is essential to humanity’s future. Not only do we need to get more energy from clean sources, but we also must make sure we don’t waste too much of that energy because we don’t have unlimited access to clean power. So, in a way, these records aren’t just a race against the clock or to tick the most boxes, but they’re the leading edge of humanity’s fight to survive and thrive long term.

In this article, I’m going to share some interesting records I found, as well as some records that are notable in that nobody has set one yet. I’m even considering setting and winning some myself, and you might, too!

Solar World Records

When it comes to records, the ones involving speed are usually the most interesting, so I’ll start there.

When it comes to raw top speed on solar alone, the current answer to that is 56.75 MPH (91 kph). This was achieved by Ashiya University’s Sky Ace TIGA at Shimojishima Airport, in Miyakojima, Okinawa, Japan, on the 20th of August, 2014. Sadly, there’s not a lot of information out there beyond that the record was set, so there’s not much else to say. 57 MPH might seem slow for top speeds, but keep in mind that we’re talking about direct power from solar panels to motor, and not a regular EV running from a battery.

If you’re looking for something a little closer to today’s EV world, another record set by a team from the University of New South Wales for the fastest 1000 km drive on one charge (which could be from solar, as the car is a solar racer) is a good one. After years of development, they managed to set that record earlier this year.

If you’re looking for raw distance, there are two interesting records people have set — one on land and one on the earth.

On the seas, the MS TÛRANOR, a boat named for the Lord of the Rings, has the solar-powered distance record. The Swiss vessel went completely around the world in a westward direction, starting and ending in Monaco. Powered by solar panels and electric motors, it reportedly had enough battery storage to go for three days and power everything but the kitchen, so it was able to move almost continuously. It could have made the trip non-stop, but the boat’s crew stopped at ports for supplies, food, fresh water, and for publicity.

The 37,000+ mile trip took 1 year, seven months, and seven days. Two crew members stayed on for the duration of the voyage, while other crew came and went as needed. After the journey, the vessel was donated to a non-profit and is now used for science missions.

On land, the distance record is currently held by Solar Car Project Hochschule Bochum. Their solar car traveled around the world (with the help of ships between continents) and went over 18,000 miles under solar power. 168 days were spent driving, and 8 days were spent sitting and charging. The journey ended up taking over a year, including time spent on ships and at events to show off the car.

Records for size are also fun, so let’s look at the biggest solar array in the world. Unlike the other records I shared above, this one’s not going anywhere. The Solar Park of Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, coming in at a whopping 8430 megawatts of power, takes the cake. But, like many other things in Tibet these days, there’s not a lot of other information about it available. That having been said, they had to provide proof of the size of the solar farm to Guinness to get the listing, so it’s probably the biggest farm Guinness knows of.

According to Wikipedia and China’s People Daily, there may be an even bigger solar farm in the country, coming in at a whopping 15,730 megawatts and covering 345 square kilometers. This “solar sea” would be the record holder, but someone would have to submit a packet of proof of size and nameplate capacity to get it in the record book.

There Are Still Many Solar Records To Set

While these records for speed, distance, and size are pretty neat, it’s also neat that many records for solar-powered activity haven’t been set yet. Looking through the website, I noticed these records listed but without anyone having proved to be the top dog:

  • Fastest Solar-Powered Boat
  • Largest Solar-Powered Tricycle
  • Fastest Solar-Powered Bicycle
  • Largest Solar-Powered Billboard
  • Fastest Circumnavigation by Solar-Powered Boat

It’s also very much worth noting that unlisted records can be aimed for, but you’d have to put in an application with Guinness first to get a new record category set. Possible records are only limited by your creativity and the Guinness guidelines.

Personally, I’d encourage readers looking to set EV and solar records to aim for something useful that proves the real-world utility of solar power and other clean technologies. You obviously can do what you want here, but being able to show the naysayers a verified world record like “coldest outdoor temperature kept warm inside by a heat pump” or “highest mileage EV” can make a real difference in the world.

Featured image by Electrify America.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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