Watauga High School automotive students creating solar golf cart

Watauga High School automotive students creating solar golf cart

Watauga High School automotive students will transition from building an electric car to a solar golf cart-type vehicle based on school needs.

In late 2019, the class started working to build an electric car that would have a range of about 100 hours per charge. But during the last school year, the project was delayed due to COVID-19.

So Erik Mortensen, the automotive class instructor, and administrators at Watauga High School discussed what needs the school had for the upcoming school year and thought about creating something that could be used around campus.

“It’s all about needs and right now the school is in need of a vehicle to use around school property,” Mortensen said. “It still gets to teach the kids everything they’re going to need to know about electric cars and it’s still going to be, I think, a great project.”

Mortensen said the school has purchased a worn out golf cart-type vehicle for the project.

“We’re going to do upgrades and modifications to that and also convert it so that it’s charged entirely by solar,” Mortensen said. “It’s going to be really neat. (The students) are going to have something that’s going to be completely off grid.”

The golf cart — which will seat four — will be operated around campus, at sporting events, at parades and other school uses.

Mortensen said he hopes to have a club started around September to work on the project since a lot of the students interested in the electric car graduated. But once he has his team assembled, they are ready to “rock and roll.”

Turning a golf cart-type vehicle into an electric vehicle will be a little easier than working on a car, but Mortensen said students will learn a lot of the same skills. He said the brakes, suspension and steering are pretty much all the same.

“That’s kind of cool for the kids who are interested in pursuing automotive as a career,” Mortensen said. “The electric side of things, it’s a totally new ballgame no matter if it’s an electric car, a conversion or a golf cart.”

In this case, Mortensen said since the golf cart is already electric, the students will be modifying the engine to make it go faster and upgrading the look of the vehicle.

“We’re going to be changing the look of the vehicle substantially with a different fiberglass body that we’re going to build for it. It’s going to have more of an off road look to it,” Mortensen said. “It’ll give the kids who are interested in just plain automotive technology, some experience playing with electric vehicles.”

Mortensen said the electric motor of a golf cart and the electric motor of a Tesla are similar as the principle is identical but just on a smaller scale.

He also said the project will give students interested in renewable energy a chance to contribute as they will be putting about 400 watts of solar power on the roof of the vehicle so it can charge while it’s parked.

Mortensen is also ready to be back in the classroom’s shop in a more normal setting this coming school year. The automotive class, offered through career and technical education classes, prepares students for a career as a mechanic or can provide the basics of fixing up a car.

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