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November 2003

Kids Go Solar Cart Racing

solar cart racing
The Kids raced in bright sunshine. (Kitami City Council)

What would you do on a perfect sunny Sunday? There is not a single cloud in deep blue sky, and the sun is shining brightly. For some lucky kids in Hokkaido, September 7, 2003, proved to be a perfect Sunday for solar cart racing.

Kitami City on the northern island of Hokkaido enjoys plenty of sun all year round. To take advantage of this rich natural resource, in 1991 the city decided to go solar and began promoting the use of sunlight as an environmentally friendly source of energy that doesn't cause global warming.

In Kitami, many homes have solar panels on their roofs for generating heat and electricity, and the energy from daytime sunlight is stored and used to power streetlamps and clock towers. The city also hosts a solar-powered car race for adults every two years. And this year, the first children's solar cart race was held.

solar cart
One of the solar cars used in the race. (Kitami City Council)

On September 7, 16 teams of fifth and sixth graders gathered at the racing track on the banks of the Tokoro River. Of the 96 contestants, 17 were girls. Each team was assigned to a cart, and the racers drove five laps around the 2.4-kilometer course in a relay. The race was shown live on a screen at an exhibition for solar-powered products that was being held in the city center.

Solar carts use sunlight stored on batteries to power their motors. They also get extra energy from the solar panel "wings" mounted at the rear. The official maximum speed recorded before the race was 15 kilometers per hour. But weather conditions were so ideal that the carts actually recorded speeds of 25 kilometers per hour that day.

The kids had a great time at the race. (Kitami City Council)

The five solar carts were built by volunteers from the organizing committee. This was no easy feat, because there were no ready-made parts for solar-powered carts, said Mr. Shirakawa of the Kitami City Council. The members had to search very hard to find parts they could use. "We gave up at one point, but eventually we got through with the kind help of local mechanical workshops."

Thanks to their efforts, the cart racers had a great time. The race ended in a close finish, with only a split-second difference between the first- and second-place carts. Koizumi Elementary School's KT Team came in first, followed by Kita Elementary School's Kita-Sho Truckies. "The cart went really fast," said Yokoyama Hiroji, who was the first driver for the KT Team. "The cart started off real slow and picked up speed. It was strange because there was no sound. I'd love to race again next year, though I'm not sure if we';ll get first place again."

NOTICE: Since October 9, 2003, Japanese names in Kids Web Japan have been written in their original order: surname first.

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