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Innovation, creativity and life lessons at 15th annual Solar Cup

By in Press Enterprise on May 19, 2017

By Aaron Claverie

Chris Knapp smiled at the memory.

Everything was going so well. After months of tests, experiments and sweat, the Temecula Valley team’s boat was gliding through the water with a huge lead. It would reign victorious at the Solar Cup, the annual event at Lake Skinner that allows teens from all over Southern California to tackle complicated engineering challenges in a real world setting while racing solar-powered boats.

Then the propeller hit some weeds. The boat crawled forward. The Temecula Valley team’s day was effectively done.

But — and here’s why the Chaparral High grad was smiling — the years he spent on the 2011 and 2013 Solar Cup teams helped stoke his enthusiasm for engineering and prepare him for college and, especially, the workforce.

“Working on a project with an end goal, that’s something you see day in and day out on the job,” said Knapp, a 22-year-old UCLA graduate who works for Northrop Grumman.

Knapp, and his sister Haley, a fellow Chaparral grad who participated on Solar Cup teams, visited the Temecula Valley staging area on Friday to hang out with this year’s advisers, Hyrum Andrews and the venerable John Wetteland, and pass on a bit of knowledge.

The boats that are used in this weekend’s event, which includes races on Saturday, May 20 and May 21, are basically the same as when the Knapps were competing — the sponsoring water districts provide a kit to level the playing field — but the tech inside has changed.

Modern solar panels are much thinner and lighter than the previous models and the motors are more efficient. Some teams are using foot throttles. Others are using hand cranks. Some teams have cutting-edge, centimeter-thin panels that are used to charge equipment on battlefields in the Middle East. Others are using quaint hand-me-down panels that have been pulled from […]    

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