Photo courtesy of Sullivan Solar Power.
Students from the San Diego area prepare to take part in the Junior Solar Car Competition. Sullivan Solar Power coordinates the event with help from San Diego Local 569 members.

San Diego Local 569 joined with signatory contractor Sullivan Solar Power on a project to get middle-school age children interested in solar power, not to produce a national champion.

National Junior Solar Sprint champions Ramses Lara and Hayden Laurie, center, stand with San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob after the board honored them for their accomplishment.
Photo courtesy of Sullivan Solar Power

Turned out they got both. Hayden Loarie and Ramses Lara, who were attending Joan MacQueen Middle School in suburban Alpine, Calif., won the National Junior Solar Sprint Competition in Orlando, Fla., in June after taking the southern California competition. The two have since graduated and moved on to high school.

“The solar car program is a labor of love for myself and our members because we’re introducing students to new education and career opportunities that allow them to earn while they learn a skilled craft trade,” Local 569 Business Manager Nick Segura said. “The success of these two young men is just icing on the cake. We send our congratulations and know we will hear of even bigger and better things from them in the future.”

Local 569 members volunteer in the schools and help the students build the cars, which are about five inches long and provided by Sullivan. The students are given a base kit and must use a solar panel, but are urged to be creative with add-ons. They learn about circuitry, stability and gear ratios.

The volunteers also assist teachers in providing information about solar energy and careers in the industry, said Kevin Johnson, Local 569’s training director.

Hayden Loarie and Ramses Lara, winners of the National Junior Solar Sprint Competition.
Photo courtesy of Sullivan Solar Power.

“It’s quite a bit of work,” he said. “It takes about six months to pull it off from start to finish. We try to get all the stuff to the teachers early so they can incorporate it into their lesson plans. The kids really enjoy it, but I think the teachers like it to.”

Sullivan Solar Power paid the expenses for Loarie and Lara to attend the national competition. The program is the brainchild of owner Daniel Sullivan, a former 569 member before founding the company. 

The exploits of Loarie and Lara put the cap on this year’s program that involved about 300 students in San Diego-area schools. Students in grades 5-8 are eligible for the competition. Their cars are judged on speed, design, originality and construction. 

Sullivan Solar Power pays for most of the program’s costs and coordinated the southern California competition, including the two race tracks and an electric vehicle showcase. Local 569 helped pay for T-shirts and awards for the participants and provided volunteers to aid students and teachers throughout the process.

Students from Chula Vista Middle School adjust the solar panel on their car before the Junior Solar Competition for the San Diego area. About 300 students took part.
Photo courtesy of Sullivan Solar Power.

The winning car for Loarie and Lara was named Dan II, which they designed and built during the school year. The two were enrolled in the school’s robotics program for three years and took part in the solar car program in 2016. They told the San Diego Union-Tribune they improved this year’s car by using poly lactic acid to create the car’s base instead of balsa wood, which made the car lighter; and by installing a new ball joint that allowed them to angle the solar panel to get more rays from the sun.

“We put quite a few more hours of work into this one,” Lara told the paper. “[Dan II] has more engineering and is more well thought out.”

Johnson noted that Local 569 has a long tradition of volunteering in the San Diego area, but this program is special because it reaches students who probably didn’t realize they were good fits for a career in the solar industry. The local union has been involved in the program since 2009.

Sullivan Solar Power plans to stay involved for the long term, according to its owner and the program’s originator.

“Our goal in sponsoring the Southern California Junior Solar Sprint is to inspire our future leaders to learn and become excited about solar power,” Daniel Sullivan said. “Our expectations were far exceeded this year watching Hayden and Ramses take the national title and setting the standard for next year’s competition.”