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Solar Rickshaws

During my trip to India back in March, I got to experience a variety of transportation options. One of those was the auto rickshaw. I commented at the time that the efficiency of the thing had to be incredible (the previous link says 82 mpg), as it was essentially an enclosed motorcycle. That’s me sitting in one below:


Sitting in an Auto Rickshaw

Having previously converted to natural gas, this already highly efficient mode of transportation is now going solar:

India’s humble rickshaw goes solar

NEW DELHI (AFP) – It’s been touted as a solution to urban India’s traffic woes, chronic pollution and fossil fuel dependence, as well as an escape from backbreaking human toil.

A state-of-the-art, solar powered version of the humble cycle-rickshaw promises to deliver on all this and more.

The “soleckshaw,” unveiled this month in New Delhi, is a motorised cycle rickshaw that can be pedalled normally or run on a 36-volt solar battery.

Three obvious questions come to mind: How far can it travel on a charge, how many miles a day do these guys typically drive, and how long does it take to fully recharge? Or, if I want to combine them, “If I started the day fully recharged, what percentage of my day is spent pedaling?” But I only saw the answer to one of these questions:

The fully-charged solar battery will power the rickshaw for 50 to 70 kilometres (30 to 42 miles). Used batteries can be deposited at a centralised solar-powered charging station and replaced for a nominal fee.

I suppose if they are changing batteries out as needed, then it is merely a question of cost and frequency of changing the batteries.

This seems to be a very good transportation option for short trips in densely populated areas.

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October 15, 2008 - Posted by | India, solar power

54 Comments

  1. “This seems to be a very good transportation option for short trips in densely populated areas.”

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 15, 2008

  2. “This seems to be a very good transportation option for short trips in densely populated areas.”

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 15, 2008

  3. “This seems to be a very good transportation option for short trips in densely populated areas.”

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 15, 2008

  4. But not quite as efficient as “walking”.

    Point taken, but I was thinking “5-10 miles” when I wrote “short trips.”

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 15, 2008

  5. But not quite as efficient as “walking”.

    Point taken, but I was thinking “5-10 miles” when I wrote “short trips.”

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 15, 2008

  6. But not quite as efficient as “walking”.

    Point taken, but I was thinking “5-10 miles” when I wrote “short trips.”

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 15, 2008

  7. In Bangkok they have the “tuk-tuk” which looks a lot like the vehicle pictured with hero RR.
    I think we are not many years away from lithium-battery powered scooters and tuk-tuks, with pretty good range. There are battery-powered scooters on the market now (I considered buying), but they lack range and speed. The new lithium batteries seem to conquer a lot of problems.
    The commercialization of the lithium battery may mark the end of the oil era. It will be cheaper to plug it in.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  8. In Bangkok they have the “tuk-tuk” which looks a lot like the vehicle pictured with hero RR.
    I think we are not many years away from lithium-battery powered scooters and tuk-tuks, with pretty good range. There are battery-powered scooters on the market now (I considered buying), but they lack range and speed. The new lithium batteries seem to conquer a lot of problems.
    The commercialization of the lithium battery may mark the end of the oil era. It will be cheaper to plug it in.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  9. In Bangkok they have the “tuk-tuk” which looks a lot like the vehicle pictured with hero RR.
    I think we are not many years away from lithium-battery powered scooters and tuk-tuks, with pretty good range. There are battery-powered scooters on the market now (I considered buying), but they lack range and speed. The new lithium batteries seem to conquer a lot of problems.
    The commercialization of the lithium battery may mark the end of the oil era. It will be cheaper to plug it in.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  10. This is a great solution for third-world countries, if they can afford the capital cost. I expect that PV + batteries has a higher upfront cost than an IC engine.

    A very similar approach would also be a fantastic option in some of the denser urban environments of the first world. Except that they would never be adopted, or probably even allowed, because they would not be “safe” (by our standards) on a road with SUVs or even regular cars.

    This is one of the insidious manifestations of our car culture, and yet another reason why cars and cities don’t mix. Not only do the needs of the auto dictate ALL the basic parameters of modern urban design, but the presence of the auto effectively excludes other solutions, while at the same time demanding more and more space, energy, and impermeable surfaces.

    Cars are a great solution for rural/low-density areas, but they suck for cities.

    Comment by GreenEngineer | October 15, 2008

  11. This is a great solution for third-world countries, if they can afford the capital cost. I expect that PV + batteries has a higher upfront cost than an IC engine.

    A very similar approach would also be a fantastic option in some of the denser urban environments of the first world. Except that they would never be adopted, or probably even allowed, because they would not be “safe” (by our standards) on a road with SUVs or even regular cars.

    This is one of the insidious manifestations of our car culture, and yet another reason why cars and cities don’t mix. Not only do the needs of the auto dictate ALL the basic parameters of modern urban design, but the presence of the auto effectively excludes other solutions, while at the same time demanding more and more space, energy, and impermeable surfaces.

    Cars are a great solution for rural/low-density areas, but they suck for cities.

    Comment by GreenEngineer | October 15, 2008

  12. This is a great solution for third-world countries, if they can afford the capital cost. I expect that PV + batteries has a higher upfront cost than an IC engine.

    A very similar approach would also be a fantastic option in some of the denser urban environments of the first world. Except that they would never be adopted, or probably even allowed, because they would not be “safe” (by our standards) on a road with SUVs or even regular cars.

    This is one of the insidious manifestations of our car culture, and yet another reason why cars and cities don’t mix. Not only do the needs of the auto dictate ALL the basic parameters of modern urban design, but the presence of the auto effectively excludes other solutions, while at the same time demanding more and more space, energy, and impermeable surfaces.

    Cars are a great solution for rural/low-density areas, but they suck for cities.

    Comment by GreenEngineer | October 15, 2008

  13. If the Indians make this thing work, I’m sure they’d be exporting a bunch of them to the west soon.

    The obvious change that I would suggest is to recharge the battery by pedaling/braking. That would make a great vehicle for hilly terrain.

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.
    That’s true for overfed and overweight Americans. For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.

    Comment by Optimist | October 15, 2008

  14. If the Indians make this thing work, I’m sure they’d be exporting a bunch of them to the west soon.

    The obvious change that I would suggest is to recharge the battery by pedaling/braking. That would make a great vehicle for hilly terrain.

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.
    That’s true for overfed and overweight Americans. For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.

    Comment by Optimist | October 15, 2008

  15. If the Indians make this thing work, I’m sure they’d be exporting a bunch of them to the west soon.

    The obvious change that I would suggest is to recharge the battery by pedaling/braking. That would make a great vehicle for hilly terrain.

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.
    That’s true for overfed and overweight Americans. For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.

    Comment by Optimist | October 15, 2008

  16. Oil tanking again today. We are almost to half the peak price.
    What a turn of events.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  17. Oil tanking again today. We are almost to half the peak price.
    What a turn of events.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  18. Oil tanking again today. We are almost to half the peak price.
    What a turn of events.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  19. The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.

    The article talks of a cycle-rickshaw, which is essentially a human pedaled tricycle. The “soleckshaw” is a battery assisted cycle-rickshaw.

    Comment by thodu | October 15, 2008

  20. The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.

    The article talks of a cycle-rickshaw, which is essentially a human pedaled tricycle. The “soleckshaw” is a battery assisted cycle-rickshaw.

    Comment by thodu | October 15, 2008

  21. The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.

    The article talks of a cycle-rickshaw, which is essentially a human pedaled tricycle. The “soleckshaw” is a battery assisted cycle-rickshaw.

    Comment by thodu | October 15, 2008

  22. Yahoo has a video of a guy that converted a Porshe 911 to an EV. It runs on 12 lead batteries. Costs 24 cents for a 50 mi. charge. He says it’s great for getting back and forth to work.

    Comment by Maury | October 15, 2008

  23. Yahoo has a video of a guy that converted a Porshe 911 to an EV. It runs on 12 lead batteries. Costs 24 cents for a 50 mi. charge. He says it’s great for getting back and forth to work.

    Comment by Maury | October 15, 2008

  24. Yahoo has a video of a guy that converted a Porshe 911 to an EV. It runs on 12 lead batteries. Costs 24 cents for a 50 mi. charge. He says it’s great for getting back and forth to work.

    Comment by Maury | October 15, 2008

  25. “The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.”

    I think the article made that clear.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 15, 2008

  26. “The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.”

    I think the article made that clear.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 15, 2008

  27. “The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.”

    I think the article made that clear.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 15, 2008

  28. “That means consumption of OPEC’s oil would shrink by 870,000 barrels a day next year.”

    OPEC is predicting demand for OPEC oil next year (2009) will drop by 870,000 bd.

    Does anyone really think demand will recover in less than five years?

    Remember when $70 a barrel seemed skyhigh? And far, far above the marginal cost of production?

    And lithium battery vehicles are becoming commercialized?

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  29. “That means consumption of OPEC’s oil would shrink by 870,000 barrels a day next year.”

    OPEC is predicting demand for OPEC oil next year (2009) will drop by 870,000 bd.

    Does anyone really think demand will recover in less than five years?

    Remember when $70 a barrel seemed skyhigh? And far, far above the marginal cost of production?

    And lithium battery vehicles are becoming commercialized?

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  30. “That means consumption of OPEC’s oil would shrink by 870,000 barrels a day next year.”

    OPEC is predicting demand for OPEC oil next year (2009) will drop by 870,000 bd.

    Does anyone really think demand will recover in less than five years?

    Remember when $70 a barrel seemed skyhigh? And far, far above the marginal cost of production?

    And lithium battery vehicles are becoming commercialized?

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 15, 2008

  31. “For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.”

    Hungry Indians are not going to be buying solar rickshaws. But you knew that.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 15, 2008

  32. “For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.”

    Hungry Indians are not going to be buying solar rickshaws. But you knew that.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 15, 2008

  33. “For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.”

    Hungry Indians are not going to be buying solar rickshaws. But you knew that.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 15, 2008

  34. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 16, 2008

  35. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 16, 2008

  36. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | October 16, 2008

  37. it is good to see that economies troughout the world are acting on ALT FUELS–beyond ethanol–with gov’t support. the USA should do the same.

    fran

    Comment by Anonymous | October 16, 2008

  38. it is good to see that economies troughout the world are acting on ALT FUELS–beyond ethanol–with gov’t support. the USA should do the same.

    fran

    Comment by Anonymous | October 16, 2008

  39. it is good to see that economies troughout the world are acting on ALT FUELS–beyond ethanol–with gov’t support. the USA should do the same.

    fran

    Comment by Anonymous | October 16, 2008

  40. With the world entering into a depression, and growth dramatically slowing down, will India subsidize electric or solar rickshaws?

    Comment by Anonymous | October 16, 2008

  41. With the world entering into a depression, and growth dramatically slowing down, will India subsidize electric or solar rickshaws?

    Comment by Anonymous | October 16, 2008

  42. With the world entering into a depression, and growth dramatically slowing down, will India subsidize electric or solar rickshaws?

    Comment by Anonymous | October 16, 2008

  43. Demand has little to do with this Benny. Sure,that’s the excuse we get for declining prices,but demand was declining when oil hit $147 too. This across the board sell-off in commodities has more to do with the financial crisis sweeping the world. Big money(and small) is unwinding positions. Converting to cash,bonds,and gold. Everything else is toxic. Stocks,grains,oil….everything. To make matters worse,banks and banking institutions need cash to shore up the books. They’re cashing in everything possible. Governments around the world have shot their wad. All we can do now is watch and wait. If the world is entering another long,dark depression,oil will be the least of our concerns.

    Comment by Maury | October 16, 2008

  44. Demand has little to do with this Benny. Sure,that’s the excuse we get for declining prices,but demand was declining when oil hit $147 too. This across the board sell-off in commodities has more to do with the financial crisis sweeping the world. Big money(and small) is unwinding positions. Converting to cash,bonds,and gold. Everything else is toxic. Stocks,grains,oil….everything. To make matters worse,banks and banking institutions need cash to shore up the books. They’re cashing in everything possible. Governments around the world have shot their wad. All we can do now is watch and wait. If the world is entering another long,dark depression,oil will be the least of our concerns.

    Comment by Maury | October 16, 2008

  45. Demand has little to do with this Benny. Sure,that’s the excuse we get for declining prices,but demand was declining when oil hit $147 too. This across the board sell-off in commodities has more to do with the financial crisis sweeping the world. Big money(and small) is unwinding positions. Converting to cash,bonds,and gold. Everything else is toxic. Stocks,grains,oil….everything. To make matters worse,banks and banking institutions need cash to shore up the books. They’re cashing in everything possible. Governments around the world have shot their wad. All we can do now is watch and wait. If the world is entering another long,dark depression,oil will be the least of our concerns.

    Comment by Maury | October 16, 2008

  46. In addition to the three questions posed in your piece the obvious follow on questions are “How Much?” and “Who Pays?”.

    Most cycle rickshaws in Delhi are owned by bosses and rented to pullers who work as de facto indentured servants. It’s a rather corrupt industry. Regardless, there is no way any puller, or boss for that matter, is ever going to buy a Solekshaw at it’s actual cost.

    Research elsewhere just turned up that while they are “priced at at Rs 7,000” on par with manual cycle rickshaws they are subsidized, with no mention of the actual manufacturing cost.

    Further the reason people take cycle rickshaws is because they are insanely cheap. 5-20 INR for a short trip (US $0.10-0.40). As much as I wish these Soleckshaw’s success, I have trouble believing anyone is ever going to pay enough to make these things economically viable. As I said, I was unable to find the true manufacturing cost, but please prove me wrong.

    FWIW, I believe it is primarily the safety regulations in NA and Europe that keep cycle and auto rickshaws off the streets here. In fact over the last several years there has been a growing push in Delhi to ban cycle rickshaws from major streets because of the traffic and safety hazard they pose in competition with India’s increasing number of private cars. Yes, I’d say ban the cars from urban centers, but regardless Indian’s are increasingly driving private cars, increasingly unwilling to share the road and in a hurry as always.

    To end on a good note, several of India’s cities have converted all or part of their auto rickshaw fleets to CNG (Mumbai partial, Bangalore full), this alone is a huge step forward that works economically and environmentally. CNG auto rickshaws, safety regs aside, could immediately work in NA and European cities… Imagine Manhattan with half sized taxis getting the CNG equivalent of 80+mpg.

    Comment by jb510 | October 16, 2008

  47. In addition to the three questions posed in your piece the obvious follow on questions are “How Much?” and “Who Pays?”.

    Most cycle rickshaws in Delhi are owned by bosses and rented to pullers who work as de facto indentured servants. It’s a rather corrupt industry. Regardless, there is no way any puller, or boss for that matter, is ever going to buy a Solekshaw at it’s actual cost.

    Research elsewhere just turned up that while they are “priced at at Rs 7,000” on par with manual cycle rickshaws they are subsidized, with no mention of the actual manufacturing cost.

    Further the reason people take cycle rickshaws is because they are insanely cheap. 5-20 INR for a short trip (US $0.10-0.40). As much as I wish these Soleckshaw’s success, I have trouble believing anyone is ever going to pay enough to make these things economically viable. As I said, I was unable to find the true manufacturing cost, but please prove me wrong.

    FWIW, I believe it is primarily the safety regulations in NA and Europe that keep cycle and auto rickshaws off the streets here. In fact over the last several years there has been a growing push in Delhi to ban cycle rickshaws from major streets because of the traffic and safety hazard they pose in competition with India’s increasing number of private cars. Yes, I’d say ban the cars from urban centers, but regardless Indian’s are increasingly driving private cars, increasingly unwilling to share the road and in a hurry as always.

    To end on a good note, several of India’s cities have converted all or part of their auto rickshaw fleets to CNG (Mumbai partial, Bangalore full), this alone is a huge step forward that works economically and environmentally. CNG auto rickshaws, safety regs aside, could immediately work in NA and European cities… Imagine Manhattan with half sized taxis getting the CNG equivalent of 80+mpg.

    Comment by jb510 | October 16, 2008

  48. In addition to the three questions posed in your piece the obvious follow on questions are “How Much?” and “Who Pays?”.

    Most cycle rickshaws in Delhi are owned by bosses and rented to pullers who work as de facto indentured servants. It’s a rather corrupt industry. Regardless, there is no way any puller, or boss for that matter, is ever going to buy a Solekshaw at it’s actual cost.

    Research elsewhere just turned up that while they are “priced at at Rs 7,000” on par with manual cycle rickshaws they are subsidized, with no mention of the actual manufacturing cost.

    Further the reason people take cycle rickshaws is because they are insanely cheap. 5-20 INR for a short trip (US $0.10-0.40). As much as I wish these Soleckshaw’s success, I have trouble believing anyone is ever going to pay enough to make these things economically viable. As I said, I was unable to find the true manufacturing cost, but please prove me wrong.

    FWIW, I believe it is primarily the safety regulations in NA and Europe that keep cycle and auto rickshaws off the streets here. In fact over the last several years there has been a growing push in Delhi to ban cycle rickshaws from major streets because of the traffic and safety hazard they pose in competition with India’s increasing number of private cars. Yes, I’d say ban the cars from urban centers, but regardless Indian’s are increasingly driving private cars, increasingly unwilling to share the road and in a hurry as always.

    To end on a good note, several of India’s cities have converted all or part of their auto rickshaw fleets to CNG (Mumbai partial, Bangalore full), this alone is a huge step forward that works economically and environmentally. CNG auto rickshaws, safety regs aside, could immediately work in NA and European cities… Imagine Manhattan with half sized taxis getting the CNG equivalent of 80+mpg.

    Comment by jb510 | October 16, 2008

  49. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Nope. At these prices Canadian tar sands do not pay. So, if prices stay this low, a bunch of supply gets eliminated.

    And, no Maury, it is ALL demand. If demand keeps falling prices will keep dropping. Only, unlike what Benny seems to be thinking, there will be no celebrations: very low demand means a HUGE recession and a lot of misery.

    We’ll see, it all depends on the US (and hence global) economy.

    Comment by Optimist | October 16, 2008

  50. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Nope. At these prices Canadian tar sands do not pay. So, if prices stay this low, a bunch of supply gets eliminated.

    And, no Maury, it is ALL demand. If demand keeps falling prices will keep dropping. Only, unlike what Benny seems to be thinking, there will be no celebrations: very low demand means a HUGE recession and a lot of misery.

    We’ll see, it all depends on the US (and hence global) economy.

    Comment by Optimist | October 16, 2008

  51. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Nope. At these prices Canadian tar sands do not pay. So, if prices stay this low, a bunch of supply gets eliminated.

    And, no Maury, it is ALL demand. If demand keeps falling prices will keep dropping. Only, unlike what Benny seems to be thinking, there will be no celebrations: very low demand means a HUGE recession and a lot of misery.

    We’ll see, it all depends on the US (and hence global) economy.

    Comment by Optimist | October 16, 2008

  52. The “Aptera” is essentially a tuk tuk in reverse and harvests all of the efficiencies for all of the same reasons. The three wheeler has been a fixture in Italy and France for decades but never took hold in the west west. The main issues are range and climate. They suit tight, congested, low speed environments, something which has been designed out in the US and Australia. But the changing environment, fuel supply, and population densities are tipping the balance, and the Aptera (long range, aerodynamically designed, light weight, 3 wheel, extremely fuel efficient and fast, plug in electric hybride) is poised to take advantage of that balance tip.

    Comment by BilB | October 19, 2008

  53. The “Aptera” is essentially a tuk tuk in reverse and harvests all of the efficiencies for all of the same reasons. The three wheeler has been a fixture in Italy and France for decades but never took hold in the west west. The main issues are range and climate. They suit tight, congested, low speed environments, something which has been designed out in the US and Australia. But the changing environment, fuel supply, and population densities are tipping the balance, and the Aptera (long range, aerodynamically designed, light weight, 3 wheel, extremely fuel efficient and fast, plug in electric hybride) is poised to take advantage of that balance tip.

    Comment by BilB | October 19, 2008

  54. The “Aptera” is essentially a tuk tuk in reverse and harvests all of the efficiencies for all of the same reasons. The three wheeler has been a fixture in Italy and France for decades but never took hold in the west west. The main issues are range and climate. They suit tight, congested, low speed environments, something which has been designed out in the US and Australia. But the changing environment, fuel supply, and population densities are tipping the balance, and the Aptera (long range, aerodynamically designed, light weight, 3 wheel, extremely fuel efficient and fast, plug in electric hybride) is poised to take advantage of that balance tip.

    Comment by BilB | October 19, 2008


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