Made by Youth and Powered by the Sun

The Solar Pirates with their 2013 solar car The Solar Pirates with their 2013 solar car

What can happen when the power of youth joins forces with the power of the sun? The creation of some of the most innovative solar vehicle technology! After bringing the ACE assembly presentation to Tottenville High School in Staten Island, NY, I was lucky to spend time with the Tottenville HS Solar Pirates at their solar car open house. I learned about their team, their latest solar car, and listened to their awesome stories about building and racing solar cars!

The Solar Pirates will be competing in the Solar Car Challenge, a national speed-racing competition, this summer for the third year in a row. Last year, the Solar Pirates won 2nd place in the top division of the competition! They were recognized by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott for their incredible accomplishment in achieving second-place in the competition and for being the first team to represent New York City and the only team in New York State to participate.

The Solar Pirates are a team of high school students with varied skills and interests, but who all agree that being a part of this team has not only been a lot of fun, but a really important learning experience and a great way to create awareness about renewable energy technologies. Some members joined because as Ari Osmolovsky describes, “From the moment Mr. Dazzo came into my social studies classroom and introduced this whole project to us, I was mesmerized. I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, and this gave me the opportunity to somehow do something.”  While some students see the solar car club as part of their engineering career path, other members were excited to learn about a piece of technology that could eliminate their hefty gasoline bills each week. A new member to the team this year, Nichole LaMarch shared that she joined the team because, “as someone who has to pay $60-$70 a week to put gas in my tank, having a solar powered car seemed like a great alternative. And this is new technology I had never seen before and I was really interested in it and I joined the team to learn more about it. I helped fix up the old car and now I’m going to help to build the new car. Hopefully they’ll expand upon this technology and I won’t have to pay $70 a week to put gas in my tank!”

Ari Osmolovsky (middle) explains their 2012 solar car battery system. Ari Osmolovsky (middle) explains their 2012 solar car battery system.

This July, The Solar Pirates will fly across the country with their new solar car to compete in the 2013 Winston Solar Car Challenge-- racing from Houston, TX to Los Angeles, CA totalling around 1,500 miles over 7 days. The Solar Pirates explained that they have spent the school year building a state of the art carbon fiber and kevlar car, that will run on high tech solar panels and a very complex battery system. When asked about the speed of the car, Ari Osmolovsky explained that, “We’ve estimated that the motor in coherence with the solar panels will allow us to go 75 mph without touching the batteries. I can’t wait to see and try really how far and fast we can make it go without touching the batteries at all.”

In order to compete in this race, The Solar Pirates have to raise over $70,000 to cover the cost of materials and the car building process, and the cost of travel. The team has done a phenomenal job fundraising with the help of the faculty supervisors, Mr. Dazzo, Mr. D'Ambrosio, and Mr. Giordano to find sponsors and organize creative fundraising events and raffles.

This map shows the Solar Car Challenge route for the 7 day race. This map shows the Solar Car Challenge route for the 7 day race.

Last years race came with its challenges, particularly regarding the battery system. The team has taken extra measures in their new car design to minimize the chances of having similar battery issues again this year. Nichole LaMarch reflects on last year and the exciting opportunity this year brings. “Last year, with four blown battery cells, we ended up coming in 2nd place and this year the car is going to be a lot more advanced and we’re hoping to come in first -- that’s what we’re planning for.”

What would Nichole LaMarch of The Solar Pirates tell other high school students if she had the chance to speak with them? Make a team and join us at the races! “I think you should definitely get involved and start a team. I’ve seen kids build these cars, fix them, put them back together, and take them apart. And if we didn’t have this, I wouldn’t know that any of my friends could do this, I wouldn’t know that I could do this--I wouldn’t know how. So, it’s definitely a great learning experience. Start one up at your school!”

I couldn’t have been more impressed by this team; their knowledge about solar car systems, their dedication to their team, and their innovative spirit! Ari Osmolovsky expressed that, “I believe with our solar car, we can be leaders in green technology, since we are essentially pioneers in our design and we can only go further from here”. I can’t wait to see what The Solar Pirates create and accomplish next! ACE will be rooting for you in July!

Maayan Cohen

Maayan is ACE’s Director of Partnerships and Campaigns. Based in New York City, she develops, manages, and supports partnerships at all levels of the organization. Maayan leads ACE’s youth engagement efforts and the co-development of strategic initiatives with external partners, including campaigns and digital engagement. She loves live music, playing soccer, practicing Capoeira, and finding adventures in the city and in the mountains!