Teams from 36 Southland High Schools Vie for Solar Cup

Students from 36 Southland high schools will begin building solar-powered boats Saturday that they will race in Metropolitan Water District's eighth-annual Solar Cup next May.

The Solar Cup program combines hands-on engineering lessons with environmental awareness, teaching students practical application of mechanical and electrical engineering with tutorials in renewable resources and water conservation.

"Solar Cup started in 2002 with eight teams," said Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger, "and eight years later, the program has 36 teams participating and is the largest solar-powered boat program in the nation, if not the world.

"Students who have participated in Solar Cup have told us it was the high-point of their high school years," he said, "and that it convinced them to go to college and to pursue careers in engineering, science or environmental protection.

"A special benefit is that these bright young leaders get an overview of California's water supply system and renewable energy. Learning about water and green power will prepare these students to contribute for the future," Kightlinger concluded.

The program kicks off at Three Valleys Municipal Water District headquarters in Claremont, where about 20 teams will build their identical, 16-foot one-person hulls. A second boat-building session for the remaining teams will be Nov. 21.

Julie A. Miller, a credentialed teacher with Metropolitan's Education Programs and eight-year Solar Cup coordinator, said, "We enhance the water-conservation message by awarding points to teams for preparing water conservation messages in the forms of videos, radio spots or brochures. The results are always creative."

Metropolitan sponsors the program, providing teams with tool-chests and pre-cut boat kits of marine-grade plywood; Saturday technical workshops; and the final, three-day competition May 14-16, 2010 at Lake Skinner near Temecula in southwest Riverside County.

Individual teams are sponsored by Metropolitan's member public agencies, and some teams are co-sponsored by local water utilities and civic organizations. New teams receive $4,000 with which to equip the canoe-like hulls with solar-collection panels, batteries, electrical and steering systems, as well as motors. Returning teams ─ which can re-use equipment from previous boats but must build new hulls ─ receive $2,500.

During the event in May, the boats compete in 90-minute endurance races around a 1.4-kilometer course, and in 200-yard sprint races. Veterans and newcomers compete in separate divisions. Winners have highest number of points from the competitions, plus points awarded for attendance at workshops, three technical reports, and the public information campaign project.

The 2010 Solar Cup roster has 27 veteran teams and nine newcomers.

A video of the 2009 Solar Cup competition and other information about the program is at Metropolitan's Web site.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 19 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.

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