EV Challenge at Plug-In 2011

16 years. Over 100 schools total. $2,000 in seed money. These are some of the numbers that go with the EV Challenge, a electric vehicle educational group that works to promote plug-ins to the high school set. From the group's booth at Plug-In 2011, the mission is being accomplished, one student at a time.

In 1995, Carolina Power & Light started EV Challenge. The idea is to give interested high schools a bit of money – today, two grand – and teach some fundraising skills and let the students learn to convert vehicles to battery power. AutoblogGreen spoke to Stephen Henderson, a student at Topsail High School in Wilmington, NC, who told us that the Toyota MR2 on display at the Raleigh Convention Center cost around $16,000 to convert. To make up the difference, Topsail students raised a lot of money and got sponsorships. Recently, they sold hot dogs from a cart. "It was $85 we didn't have before," Henderson said. The school also has one of the best pro-EV names for its efforts: Kickngas.

Aside from learning electric vehicle engineering and other skills (Henderson is on the oratory team, which means he goes into the community and tells people about the project and EVs in general - and it explains why he was on hand at Plug-In this year), one big reason the students convert vehicles is to compete in the annual EV Challenge held in May. The vehicles (this year there were 15 from 11 schools) are put through a series of tests, including autocross and distance. Most of the schools are from North Carolina, but this year there were teams from Florida, Iowa, West Virginia and Virginia as well.

The real purpose, of course, is to educate the next generation of EV engineers and mechanics. Henderson said that he has gained a lot of real-life skills "and it helped me decide what I want to do," which is to go to North Carolina State and get a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. He already knows a lot more than the average student, since Topsail has won the last eight EV Challenges.

For more on the EV Challenge, check out Caroline Kettlewell's book Electric Dreams and click past the jump for a video of Top Sail's electric Toyota on the track at this year's final challenge.

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Photos copyright ©2011 Sebastian Blanco / AOL