How we will make sure the Dakar rally powers the energy transition
Koolen Industries and Project2030 founder Kees Koolen shares his thoughts on Dakar rally and the importance of the clean energy transition.
I have just returned from the Dakar rally. It truly is a motor race like no other.
The grueling annual race takes place through rough terrain across sand dunes and rocky mountains in remote deserts. There’s no track to follow. No signposts. There’s little room for error.
This requires the utmost performance from both people and from the technology.
As competitors, we have to navigate our way across sand dunes and rocky terrain as we carve out our own paths to the finishing line. The terrain varies continuously and is rough and punishing for the material and crew. The machines we rely on to get us there are pushed to their limits. The crews, well aware that this annual off-road race is the most important competition of the year, push even harder. The race requires focus and concentration as they know that the smallest distraction can end the race in seconds. Success is never guaranteed.
When things go wrong along the way, and they invariably do, we have to solve problems on the spot. We must act quickly and decisively, or we’ll be left behind. Competition is fierce. The sense of urgency is real. Tested and proven technology is vital. The teams rely on it.
As such, the Dakar rally is an apt metaphor for the energy transition, which is also taking place without a clear roadmap, which also relies on cutting-edge technology, and is also driven by a tremendous sense of urgency. We know where we need to go and we know we must get there fast, but as yet we don’t know exactly how so we are constantly thinking about new solutions.
Lessons are learned along the way. Whether it’s the Dakar race or the race to transition to clean energy, participants will learn from trial and error whether the equipment they use is reliable and works as intended when applied during extreme real-world conditions.
All participants, whether drivers and mechanics, designers and engineers, do all they can to prepare, but it is only when they push the limits beyond what is done in laboratories or in ordinary tests that they will know for sure what works and what does not.
So if the equipment works during the two weeks of the Dakar rally, they know that it will work and be reliable under ordinary conditions in heavy industry, in agriculture, in mining, on expeditions, in situations where people rely on technology that is functional and reliable; technology that works whatever the weather, whether it’s near the Equator or in the Arctics.
Like the Dakar race, the energy transition is an endurance race that requires immense technological ingenuity by multi-disciplinary teams, cool-headed strategic planning, and a competitive desire to not only succeed but to win. Winning is only possible if the technical solutions work and survive the race. There’s a saying among Dakar veterans: "To finish first, you’ll first have to finish.”
But although the resilience demanded by Dakar during several days of racing differ from that required in races that last just hours, the energy transition calls for a considerably lengthier commitment.
For us, the Dakar rally and the energy transition are intrinsically linked.
This year, we entered the rally as Project 2030, which brings together three initiatives. These include some 25 clean energy companies that are part of Koolen Industries, the academic research, development, and entrepreneurial Green Box clean energy campus and a racing truck that we have named Nicias, which will evolve into an electric competition vehicle in a race that many say is the toughest in the world.
This evolution will not happen by itself. It will happen thanks to the commitment of dozens of specialist teams of scientists and engineers dedicated to the energy transition. It will happen thanks to the clean energy companies that are deeply involved in the project. It will happen thanks to the small army of entrepreneurs and universities at the Green Box clean energy campus in Hengelo, The Netherlands.
We have been brought together by this challenge. As participants in Project 2030, we have broadened it. We focus on what lessons we can learn from creating new technologies that are not only as good and reliable as existing technologies, but better.
We are not prepared to limit ourselves to small-scale demo projects. Instead, we keep a constant eye on the latest, the newest, the most revolutionary technologies that will propel our progress. This is our recipe for success. It will not only help us compete in and finish this ultra-challenging race, but also enable us to challenge existing, mature, and long-term developed technologies.
So whereas we might be one of the first, perhaps even the first, to complete the Dakar race in a fully electric vehicle, this is not the most important thing on our minds. Our focus is firmly on usefulness, not just to the world of racing but to the world at large.
We realise that the more of us that try to do this, the better it is for society at large and for the earth’s fragile environment, ecosystems, and climate. We know that other Dakar competitors are pursuing similar goals, and we know that the same is true in both industry and academia.
We welcome this. Just as we do in the Dakar rally, we welcome competition with open arms and we respect our rivals. May the best team win.