Innovation in F1 can take many forms and there is some very interesting work going on at the moment in alternative energies, with solar power companies attracted into F1. It’s not an obvious fit one might say, but they are drawn in by the opportunity to innovate and to align with a sport which is all about high tech.
The prospect of drivers helmets and even the entire surface of an F1 car being made of solar panels is not far away.
On a bigger scale, Sauber and Lotus F1 team are pushing ahead with developments in solar power at their factories, aimed at reducing the team’s carbon footprint. This is an interesting step in many ways, not least at the present time, as it provides an alternative view to the push towards increased KERS and energy regeneration in F1 racing itself.
No-one would disagree that F1 could and should do more to appear more in step with the times on sustainability and carbon footprint. A lot of teams have made steps to make their factories carbon neutral. But there’s no getting away from the massive footprint from the amount of travel the teams, cars and freight must undertake every season, not to mention the spectators travelling to the events.
There is a debate going on at the moment about the rights and wrongs of introducing the new 2014 engines, which will be three to four times as expensive for teams to lease from manufacturers. estimates range from €15-20 million per season. This is because they feature new technologies which are aimed at reducing fuel consumption by over 30% and harvesting more energy from braking.
Many teams feel that this is a wrong use of funds at a tough time economically and that it would be better to adapt the current V8 engines to run with fuel flow meters. They argue that the environmental impact of the new V6 engines will be minimal anyway.
Far better, some argue, to do more long sighted projects to reduce footprint; projects like the ones Sauber and Lotus have undertaken with solar energy. Lotus has been at it for some time now with its partner Trina Solar, they recently installed panels to power the simulator.
The target for the Enstone plant is 33 megawatts of power for a year and in four months they have reached almost half of that. “This is an example of how we can associate F1 with cleaner, greener energy,” said Lotus F1 boss Eric Boullier. “And we can increase our expectations. We have some new projects on the dyno where we will integrate more and more solar energy.”
The Enstone factory is carbon neutral and also has the status of Site of Scientific Interest with the local council.
The Lotus motorhome is partly powered by solar and next year the team will build a new motorhome which will have solar panels in the roof, where the target will be to provide 40% of the electricity needed for the motorhome.
It features 1,573 thin-film silicon photovoltaic modules, stretching over an area measuring 2,249 square metres. A roof of one of the factory buildings has been fitted with solar modules and large sections of the company’s car park are now covered.
Sauber claims that the installation delivers 155,600 kilowatt hours of power per year – equivalent to the electricity needs of 44 households – and generates peak power of 173 kWp.
“We are extremely proud of this sustainable extension to our company headquarters,” said Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn. “For us, local power generation via a photovoltaic installation not only represents another contribution to fulfilling our environmental responsibilities, it also makes financial sense. The installation is cost-efficient and also allows a large number of vehicles to be parked under cover. On top of that, it fits in well visually with our factory as a whole, which is already highlighted by the modernistic glass architecture of the wind tunnel building’s façade.”
Looking a bit further down the road, Trina Solar are looking at fitting photovoltaic cells into the surface of a driver’s helmet, with the objective of powering the pit to car radio.
Also researched, together with Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the technique of blending photovoltaic materials into complex laminates such as carbon fibre, to make it photovoltaic. The whole surface of an F1 car could become a solar panel. Getting the cells to be flexible is one of the challenges. Trina Solar believe that they will be able to bring this to F1 in two to three years.