Cape Town in South Africa has just hosted the end of a journey of almost 2,500 miles on solar, hydrogen or electric power.

The race, the South African 2010 Solar Challenge, was won by Japan's Tokai Challenger, a solar-powered vehicle with a top speed of 100mph which has previously won the 2009 Solar Challenge. The solar cells powering it are more often found on satellites and the Tokai Challenger certainly has more than a hint of spacecraft about it.

Perhaps that's why traffic police in the region managed to pull it over twice. It can't be often they see a shiny, silent, three-wheeled car wafting down the road.

For the region though, the most significant aspect of the Solar Challenge were the three locally made alternative energy cars.

One vehicle, Star Track, was constructed in only 20 days by two sewage works apprentices who didn't even know what a solar panel was just a month ago. Another was constructed by a team of pupils from a German School in Johannesburg.

Stories like this caught the imagination of local school pupils.

"If you asked 10 kids in the team last year if engineering was even on their list of careers you'd get a resounding no from all but two. Now all of them would make it their first choice" enthused Hein Hiestermann, a parent at the German School.

18-year old Karabo Sekhukhuni added "This experience has changed my life. Renewable energy is clearly the future. Who knew that engineering could be so much fun?". She even went as far as to apply for electrical engineering courses at three universities following the event.

We think events like the South African 2010 Solar Challenge are incredibly important for getting future generations interested in electric vehicle technology.

In the past, previous generations have grown up with inspiration from different motoring trends - hot rods, supercars, sport compacts - often aided by high-profile series and events. Alternative energy events serve the same purpose and are right at the forefront of technology.

In the last few years we've seen a number of large events to show the world what EVs are capable of. Perhaps more events such as these involving younger enthusiasts will inspire them to join the electric revolution.

Some of them may even be the designers of the next Nissan Leaf or Tesla Roadster.

[Times Live]