Team Sunergy began in Fall 2013 as a class project to build a solar-powered golf cart designed for race competition. Students quickly learned their goal was not just hypothetical.
Rather, they learned technology supports solar-powered transportation and that a group of passionate individuals can overcome any obstacles.
Over the next three years, team members researched competitions and the equipment needed to compete. They wrote grant proposals. They recruited peers from across Appalachian’s majors to create a well-functioning, interdisciplinary team.
A donated shell from Iowa State University led to the team’s first competition-ready solar car, Apperion. The team competed in the 2016’s Formula Sun Grand Prix and American Solar Challenge, placing third and sixth respectively. A second-place finish in 2017’s Formula Sun Grand Prix followed. In 2018, Team Sunergy built ROSE, a two-seat cruiser class car who was the first solar car completely designed and built by students at Appalachian State. The team was able to finish her in time for the Formula Sun Grand Prix and placed third, followed by a second place finish at the American Solar Challenge. Now, the team has their sights set on their biggest journey yet: The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, a race across the Australian Outback.
Sun, energy, plus synergy = Team Sunergy
“That explains us perfectly, because we have multiple majors from all over campus working towards one common goal.” – Dan Blakeley, Team Sunergy Founder
- Chris Tolbert in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment teaches a class on transportation systems, letting students decide on a main project.
- Student Dan Blakeley presents the idea of forming a solar car racing team. The class selects the project even though no one knows anything about solar car racing.
- With initial funding and donated parts from Golf Cart Catalog, including a motor and motor controller, the class constructs a vehicle at student Wil Miner’s family shop in Independence, North Carolina. Tolbert also contributes some parts on hand.
- Once built, the cart is relocated to a classroom in Kerr Scott Hall on Appalachian’s campus.
- Because of the vehicle’s rudimentary construction, the middle section of a double door had to be removed each time the vehicle is taken out.
- Class members develop a logo, website, social media presence and other communication materials needed for race competition.
- Four members of the “team” carry over from fall semester.
- They began recruiting other interested students to continue their work, but retention becomes difficult because this is the same academic year students and faculty design a row house for competition in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France.
- Dan Blakeley, Chris Tolbert and Will Miner decide to attend the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2014 in July in Austin, Texas, to observe.
- The two students and their faculty mentor attend 2014 Formula Sun Grand Prix at their own expense and volunteer as corner workers.
- Other teams in attendance are supportive and share their knowledge. In particular, Western Michigan and Illinois State give insider information.
- Key take-aways: solar car-designed parts, including special tires, are important and expensive.
- Recruitment improves with leaders’ gained knowledge and photos from Formula Sun Grand Prix, but retention remains an issue without an actual car to race.
- Interested students major in either appropriate technology or sustainable technology.
- Dan writes project proposals to Appalachian’s Renewable Energy Initiative and Office of Sustainability and receives $24,090 from each area from REI.
- This critical funding goes toward completing and updating the golf cart design. This is conducted primarily at Watauga High School, which supplied important welding equipment.
- Basic 3D models are constructed of a concept car.
- A public relations class from the Department of Communication makes key contributions to the team. The team name and logo are chosen.
- In January, the team attends a high school solar car conference in Texas and learns more about where to find products. They came back still hoping to race in the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2015.
- Team members attend a collegiate solar car conference in April. On the first day, Iowa State team approaches Dan and Chris offering to donate the shell of their old car.
- Dan drives to Iowa, hangs out with Iowa State for a day, rents a Penske truck, and brings its shell – named Hyperion – back to Boone.
- Team has six weeks to build its car – named Appearion – for Formula Sun Grand Prix.
- Suspension, brakes and electronics are lacking, but with Iowa State’s vehicle report the team reconstructs car to working condition
- Boston Power sends batteries and an intern to help install them, as well as the battery protection system (BPS).
- Suspension is designed with just two weeks to go, using machine shop in department of Physics and Astronomy.
- About 8 team members make a three-day drive to the race. The team can register, but isn’t allowed in the garage bays due to lack of insurance. Members stays outside, while track reaches 135 degrees.
- Other teams gave support helping out and troubleshooting.
- Insurance is secured on final day of competition.
- The team starts scrutineering phase and successfully completes three-fourths of scrutineering but does not pass electrical or BPS.
- Team is awarded the “Perseverance Award” at race banquet and returns to campus with greater support from the university.
Fall 2015- Spring 2016
- With a usable car and increased knowledge, team membership becomes more reliable and leaders begin to train students about how the car works.
- Warehouse is shut down for six months, leading to major setbacks.
- Apperion does not run consistently until May 2016. The team perseveres as is determined to race in the 2016 Formula Sun Grand Prix that summer.
- Team Sunergy and its Apperion solar car competes in the closed-track Formula Sun Grand Prix, held at Pittsburgh International Race Complex. This is an international collegiate endurance competition that sets the standards for and tests the limits of solar vehicle technology.
- During scrutineering, the only issue flagged was the battery protection system (BPS). The team replaces and reprograms its BPS and Apperion passes inspection.
- Apperion needs to drive a minimum of 128 laps in any of the three track days, and the team finishes the first day with 152 laps. This qualifies the team for the American Solar Challenge, which takes place over 1,975 miles of highway spanning from Brecksville, Ohio to Hot Springs, South Dakota.
- Chancellor Sheri Everts secures the team’s required insurance.
- With a race strategy of slow, steady and consistent, Team Sunergy's leading pole position slowly declines throughout the 8-day, 6-state race due in part to rain and fog.
- In their first appearance in the solar vehicle racing industry, Team Sunergy finishes 6th place overall and receives the Abraham Poot Teamwork Award and Fastest Driver Egress.
Fall 2016-Spring 17
- Returning from their first successful race, Team Sunergy has the largest recruitment to date bringing in almost 50 team members.
- The team begins being recognized at bigger events, including bringing the car on the field at an Appalachian State Football game and being featured at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Fall Auto Fair. Daisy Duke attends the Fall Auto Fair and signs Apperion.
- Team Sunergy compete in and take second place at the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix held on the Circuit of The Americas track in Austin, Texas.
- Team becomes known for quick and efficient pit stops.
- The team also wins the event’s Safety Award, Fastest Egress Award, Array Award and the ISF Achievement Award, which is presented to the team “that best exemplifies the mission of ISF by raising awareness of the imperatives of sustainable transport through innovation, and promoting the concept of ‘Brain Sport.’”
- Team Sunergy, while still a student group, becomes an official part of Appalachian’s Office of Sustainability. This change provides greater financial and administrative support so the students can focus on the advancing the car and its technology.
- Students attend the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia with the Chilean Solar Car Team, Antakari Solar Team. They learn firsthand what it’s like to race in the top solar car competition in the world, and help Antakari place 10th with their car Intikallpa 4.
- Students begin the design of their new car, ROSE, which is the first solar car completely designed, built, and raced by students at Appalachian State University.
- The team attends the IEF Solar Car Conference and become known for their well managed business team. They also begin the /r/solarracing subreddit while at this conference.
- Apperion gets a new wrap, designed by University Communications, for a new year and new race.
- The team is offered the chance to race in Egypt at the Somabay Egyptian Solar Challenge but turns it down to focus on the Formula Sun Grand Prix. They build a steady testing schedule throughout the semester to prepare for the race.
- Students complete designs for ROSE and begin constructing the car at local facilities. 8 students begin working at VX Aerospace in Morganton, NC to build the aerobody and chassis. Other students work on campus in machine shops to bring their designs from the computer to life.
- The team works around the clock to complete ROSE in time for the American Solar Challenge 2018. In June they unveil the unfinished car to the Boone Community.
- In July, they arrive at the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Hastings, Nebraska with a car that has never turned on. The team, with help from other teams and professionals, get the car turned on for the first time on the third day of scrutineering and make it on the track by the second day. They end of placing 3rd in the Formula Sun Grand Prix
- Chancellor Sheri Everts flies out to Omaha, NE for the “Public Day” of the race, and to watch ROSE be judged on practicality. App State and Minnesota tie in practicality with a score of 203.
- The team begins the American Solar Challenge, following the Oregon Trail, at a quick pace but by mid day run out of battery and discover that the array was not connected and charging the battery. This causes the team to trailer to the first stage stop.
- ROSE performs astoundingly well for a car that was never tested before the race, and wins the second and fourth stages of the race.
- Due to the initial trailering, ROSE does not cross the finish line in Bend, OR in time and receives a 0 for efficiency. However, every cruiser but Emilia 4 from the University of Bologna is late to the finish line. Due to this, App State and Minnesota tie for second place in the American Solar Challenge.
- Team Sunergy focuses on optimizing ROSE for the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge across the Australian Outback. The focus of the team is to reduce weight wherever possible and improve efficiency. As the first round of building ROSE was rushed, parts are deconstructed and remodeled, to ensure that everything is optimized. The team also focused on outreach and introducing more people to ROSE.
- Team Sunergy is also granted the everGreen Award for Sustainability by the Boone Chamber of Commerce for being a leader in sustainable business.
- Rose officially becomes street legal and the team continues to optimize her for the World Solar Challenge, including testing at the nearby Johnson County airport and Watauga High School.
- Members of Team Sunergy attend the IEF Solar Car Conference to discuss with teams across North America about solar car racing and vehicle design.
- Apperion goes on display at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC.
- Team Sunergy moves out of their warehouse to a new, larger space across Boone.