Calif. Students Vie for Top Awards in Solar-Powered Boat Races

Solar-powered boats built and raced by students from Savanna High School in Anaheim and Oak Park High School in Oak Park  captured the top awards at the ninth annual Solar Cup competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and local water agencies.

The schools were among the 40 teams from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties participating in the seven-month program in which students build, equip and race the 16-foot, single-seat canoes powered only by the sun.

The three-day event was held at Metropolitan’s Lake Skinner reservoir in the Temecula Valley in southwestern Riverside County. Savanna High School captured first place in the veterans division, and Oak Park High School took the top prize in the rookie division.

“Over the last three days, all of the Solar Cup participants have had hands-on experiences in problem-solving, teamwork, and sportsmanship that will serve them well as they continue to complete their educations and start their careers. In the end, in our eyes, they’re all winners,” said Randy Record, a vice chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Directors who represents the Eastern Municipal Water District.

Joining in the awards presentations were Metropolitan board members David DeJesus, representing Three Valleys Municipal Water District, and Glen Peterson of Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

“Solar Cup also teaches the students indispensable lessons in the importance of saving and maintaining our precious water resources and the value of renewable resources,” said Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger.

Teams completed a series of qualifying events May 13, supported by Metropolitan staff and a technical advisory team from Occidental and Harvey Mudd colleges to ensure boats met rules and were safe and seaworthy. The next day, the teams attached solar-collection panels to the boats for two 90-minute 1.2-kilometer endurance races.

May 15, the heavy solar-collection panels were removed and, using solar energy stored in batteries, the boats raced down a 200-meter stretch—akin to drag racing on water.

The 2011 Solar Cup program began in the fall, when Metropolitan’s member agencies announced their school sponsorships. Teams are sponsored by their local water agencies and other organizations to equip the crafts with solar panels, batteries, steering and related systems.

Metropolitan provides teams with identical kits of marine-grade plywood to build the hull. While all teams must build a new boat and equip it, returning teams may use equipment from previous boats.