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NREL Model Car Competitions

NREL hosts car competitions that include building and racing solar- and battery-powered model vehicles. Middle school teams from around Colorado participate in this fun, educational, and exciting event every May.A photo of students competing in NREL's Solar and Lithium Ion model car races in Colorado.

Building solar- and battery-powered cars requires skills in both math and science. The goals of the competition include:

  • Generating enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  • Improving students' understanding of scientific concepts and renewable energy technologies
  • Encouraging young people to consider technical careers at an early age.

Teams work together to build cars with guidance from a parent, teacher, or coach to compete in race and design categories. A "Spirit Award" is also presented to one team to recognize good sportsmanship.

2019 Model Car Competition

The date for this year's competition is set for Saturday, May 4, 2019. Registration will open in February. 

Download the competition rules: 

Event Information

Registration opens: 8 a.m.

Awards ceremony: approximately 3 p.m.

Location: Dakota Ridge High School, 13399 West Coal Mine Avenue, Littleton, CO 80127

Sources for Model Car Kits and Accessories

From the suppliers listed here, you can order kits containing solar cells modules and electric motors, surplus motors, and gears. Download the kit and component supplier listPDF for Junior Solar Sprint and Lithium-Ion Battery model cars.

Junior Solar Sprint

Lithium-Ion Battery Cars


How To Build A Junior Solar Sprint Car

How to Build a Li-Ion Battery Car 

Li-Ion Battery Safety, Testing, and Compliance

Classroom Investigations
Teachers, mentors, and their students can use this publication to explore the components of model solar cars. It includes investigations and experiments to improve car performance.

So You Want to Build a Model Solar Car
Written for teachers and students who want to participate in JSS, this document contains teacher background on photovoltaics, classroom activities for measuring solar cell output and understanding transmission components, tips on the vehicle construction process, hints for transmission design, formulas for calculating vehicle performance, and design considerations.

Inside Tips on Parts and Construction
This booklet helps students identify possible options for obtaining parts to build the vehicle's drive train and chassis and provides formulas for determining appropriate gear ratios and wheel sizes.

An Introduction to Building a Model Solar Car: Student Guide for the Junior Solar Sprint Competition
This guide assists students in the selection of components and materials for creating model solar cars. The publication identifies potential problems based on components chosen for chassis, wheels and bearings, power source, transmission and body shell and discusses possible solutions.

Teacher and Mentor Guide
Suggestions to teachers and mentors for integrating JSS activities into their classroom curriculums are presented here. Useful background information about the role of a technical mentor, recommendations for teaching "hands-on" design in classroom groups, a description of the engineering design process, and an eight-week lesson plan can be gleaned from this guide.

Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) Resources

NESEA Newsletters: Grades 7-9 (PDFs 1-8)
NESEA Solar Kit Lessons: Grades 7-9 (PDFs 1-15)
NESEA Cars of Tomorrow: Grades 9-12

NESEA teaches students about the impact of today's transportation systems on their communities and explores the possible effects of shifting to alternative-fuel vehicles. The curriculum includes 35 hours of activities that help students develop problem-solving, creative-thinking, and decision-making skills.


For more information about NREL's model car competitions, email NREL’s Education Center or call 303-384-6565.