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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Students ready to show off solar cars

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: March 4, 2023, 6:02am

Most racers are still years away from having a driver’s license, but that won’t stop them from going head-to-head at the starting line next Saturday.

More than a hundred teams of students from across Clark County have spent months studying, designing and building custom solar-powered cars just for this moment. With such stiff competition, who’ll take home the trophy and the bragging rights at the 2023 Solar Car Challenge is anyone’s guess.

The Clark Public Utilities Solar Car Challenge is a moment to shine as much as it is an academic tournament for local elementary, middle and high school students. The event combines the fun of pinewood derby with the presentations from science fair, built on a monthslong foundation of age-appropriate curricula around renewable energy, mechanical engineering and creative design.

March 11 is race day. While the event is undoubtedly about competition, it’s also a day for students to learn from each other’s processes, celebrate their hard work and have fun.

“Clark Public Utilities provides the car kits and the educational resources teachers need to lead the projects, but our employee-volunteers don’t get to see the final product until the race,” said Education Engagement Specialist Amber Hall. “For us one of the most rewarding moments comes during the evaluation segment, when we get to see the students’ creativity demonstrated within the boundaries of four wheels and a solar panel. It’s truly something to see.”

This year’s race will be held at a local school gymnasium. It’s a festive atmosphere with well over 100 students, their teachers and their families expected to attend.

The event kicks off with an interview and project presentation similar to a science fair. Utility employee-volunteers interview the students and evaluate their car’s design, engineering process and understanding of renewable energy, then provide an overall score. On the other side of the building, other employee-volunteers oversee the track and orchestrate multi-heat races for participating teams.

In the months leading up to the race, dozens of teachers turned coaches worked with Hall and relied on educational resources from Clark Public Utilities to lead their team projects. Many of those materials are available for everyone at the PowerZone — Clark Public Utilities’ educational website powerzone.clarkpublicutilities.com.

“The Solar Car Challenge is a very unique opportunity for kids to build mental connections between the science, engineering, math, technology and artistic lessons they learn in school,” Hall said. “Our hope is that kids will see how these lessons can apply to the real world and will be inspired to consider careers in those fields down the road.”

Interacting with utility employees — many of whom also were educated Clark County schools —demonstrates to students that they don’t need to move away to find meaningful and fulfilling careers; they can be part of the next generation helping to deliver power and water to their community.

The Solar Car Challenge is just one of several Clark Public Utility initiatives that supports education, including the materials on the PowerZone website, student tours at the Operations Center and the utility’s presence at community events.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668