Solar race across globe almost to U.S.

Four solar-powered vehicles racing around the world in 80 days will cross from Canada into the United States this weekend.

The four solar cars are participating in the Zero Race to raise awareness about environmental concerns and the accessibility of real solutions, according to the event’s web site.

“This race is not about speed,” said Jill Hansen, US marketing manager for Canadian Solar and point person for race details. “The criteria for the race are quality and environmental design.”

The solar race started on Aug. 16 in Switzerland. The vehicles – two cars, one motorcycle and one that is somewhere in between, were driven across Eastern Europe and Asia before sailing to Canada. The race started with five vehicles, but one had technical difficulties and had to drop out in Berlin, according to the race web site.

The teams will drive down the west coast of the United States and cut over to Cancun, Mexico, for the World Climate Change Conference there on Dec. 5.

Louis Palmer, of Switzerland, started the race. He drove around the world in a solar-powered car in 2008, inspiring hundreds of people to build their own versions, he wrote on the web site.

“As the first man ever to circumnavigate the world in a solar car,” Palmer wrote, “I am now inviting others to join me and drive around the world to spread the message.”

He called the vehicle he drove in that epic 2008 journey the Solar Taxi.

In inviting teams to participate in this race, his aim was not to see who could go the fastest, though some of the solar vehicles are really fast. The Swiss Oerliken Solar Racing Team’s vehicle, which is a cross between a motorcycle and car, can go more than 200 kilometers per hour, the team captain told an Italian news reporter on air.

The goal of the race is to determine who has the best solar car: Which one is the most efficient, practical and affordable.

Palmer said the viewing public gets to decide who the race winner will be. The race makes stops everywhere it goes and lets people vote on which car they like best.

When the race is in San Francisco next week, Hansen said, the cars will stop at the Google campus for a public viewing and give people an opportunity to learn about the cars and judge them.

The race will be in Seattle, Nov. 13, Portland, Ore., On Nov. 14, San Francisco on Nov. 16 and 17, Los Angeles on Nov. 19 and 20 and Las Vegas on Nov. 22, according to a press release about the race.

Pictured: Remember those flat, wing-looking solar cars that used to be all the rage? We'll the times they are a-changing. Seriously, how bad-ass are these solar cars? Image courtesy of Zero Race.