South Africa is struggling with the twin problems of a lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates and an ageing coal-based energy sector that needs urgent intervention in the form of renewables. Clearly, the one directly influences the other: Graduates trained in the sciences are necessary to develop and manage smart, eco-friendly energy solutions that will move our economy forward. Yet student uptake into these fields is stagnant at best and, at worst, diminishing. Thankfully, one university-based movement has stumbled upon a proactive, engaging way to ignite interest in the STEM fields; solar-powered racing cars.
Originally established in 2010 as an engineering education research project at the University of Johannesburg, the UJ Energy Movement quickly evolved into a “vehicle” to promote STEM and energy innovation after the success of a final-year project to create and race a solar-powered vehicle across South Africa.
Since, the programme has developed three solar-powered vehicles and eight hybrid vehicles that have all competed in the Sasol Solar Challenge and the UJ-Shell Eco-Marathon, races in which students from throughout the world compete with their own custom-built alternative energy cars.
The most famous of the UJ Energy Movement’s creations is the sleek Ilanga II, named after the Zulu word for sun. Unveiled just in time for the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge, it boasts a maximum speed of 140km per hour and an impressive cruising speed of 75km per hour when powered only by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are fed energy by the vehicle’s solar panels.
In mid-2015, the Ilanga II made its first educational road trip of 4 160km: The 2015 African Solar Drive saw UJ’s eco-creation cross the border into Namibia and then Botswana, making pit stops in cities and towns alike for the UJ team to give public lectures promoting green technology, and boost interest in science and mathematics.
Nickey Janse van Rensburg, UJ Energy Movement Programme Manager and Mechanical Engineering Science Lecturer, says the Ilanga II is an incredible tool to promote skills development, energy conservation and technology innovation throughout southern Africa.
Although Standard Bank was not involved with the UJ Energy Movement, the promotion of alternative energy sources aligns with our vision for a sustainable future on the continent. We featured the UJ Energy Movement vehicle in our latest TV ad that features a number of African organisations, personalities, inventions and start-ups that are moving the continent forward in their own unique way. Standard Bank is committed to sustainable energy sources that support Africa’s economies and ensure that the continent will continue to prosper.
Currently, the UJ Energy Movement is preparing for another cross-border adventure in mid-2017, this time to Kenya. Though the distance is further and the country different, one thing remains the same; the Movement’s aim to champion the cause of technical innovation, sustainable energy and thus a better future for all.
To keep up with Ilanga II’s adventures in Africa, visit their Facebook page.