Solar Bicycles vs EVs 

The Need to promote Solar Bicycles 


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The Need to Promote Solar Cycles instead of EVs

India is taking giant steps to promote Electric Vehicles (EVs) in India. In addition to schemes provided by the central government, several state governments have announced incentives for EVs. The Gujarat Electric Vehicle Policy 2021 provides for subsidy of up to Rs 20,000 on EVs in the two-wheeler category, Rs 50,000 for three-wheelers, and up to Rs 1.5 lakh for cars. Also, the State government has exempted e-vehicles registered in Gujarat RTOs from paying registration fee.  In light of the same, Gujarat recently reported a 956 percent increase in EV sales by the end of 2021 since 2019. In sharp contrast, neither the central nor state governments are offering any subsidy for solar vehicles which are far superior to plain vanilla EVs. 

According to GEDA (Gujarat Energy Development Agency), the state nodal / designated agency (SNA/ SDA) for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Sources (MNRE) and Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), respectively, the EVs are battery fuelled, so they help in keeping the environment pollution free. GEDA offers the subsidy to customers for EVs in Gujarat. 

According to Centre for Apparent Energy Research (CAER), Baroda Electric Meters Limited, EVs may actually not be helping the environment as projected.  A survey carried out by CAER shows that most customers who opt for EVs and have availed the subsidy as per the Gujarat Electric Vehicle Policy 2021, have earlier also opted for another subsidy, again offered by GEDA - namely the Surya Urja Rooftop Yojna  that offers 40% subsidy to the residential consumers who have installed Rooftop Solar. These consumers offset their solar generation against the units consumed to charge their EVs. Now, due to a flawed electric tariff structure, called Net Metering, popular world-wide and approved locally by  the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC), the Electric Distribution Utility such as MGVCL is unable to differentiate between consumers who export different quantum of solar energy as long as their net difference between the units imported and exported, respectively, remain the same. Amongst them, we label the one at one extreme end, who exports his entire solar generation during the day while importing an equal amount of units at night to charge his EV,   to be 'totally undesirable'. On the other extreme end, we consider a consumer to be 'desirable', if he consumes his entire solar generation, himself.  

An 'undesirable EV consumer' creates two major problems for the electric utility. On one side, expensive fossil fuel (coal/ oil) based generation is used to charge the EVs. Hence, EVs are responsible for pollution - may not be at his door step, but at the coal or oil based power generation plants (in sharp contrast to the claims made by GEDA). Regardless of the place where the pollution occurs, the environment does get affected - since we all have a single intra-connected Mother Earth.   

The second problem the 'undesirable EV consumer' creates to the electric utility is for the latter to find another consumer who is willing to receive the solar generation exported by the EV consumer.  Since electrical energy is perishable and needs to be consumed the very same instant it gets generated, the utility has a mammoth job particularly with the rising number of solar rooftops and 950% increase in EVs. Would it not have been better if the said " undesirable EV consumer" would use his solar consumption to charge his own EV?  

Actually, EVs are considered to be a different kind of load in comparison to other consumer loads. Other electrical loads such as a motor, or a fan or a TV operates and consumes the energy the same instant it is drawn from the electrical utility.  An EV is different - it contains a storage element - namely a rechargeable battery - as an electrical load. The battery gets charged when plugged to the electrical utility ac mains, but the EV is used only at other times, later, after the battery charging process gets completed. The battery, as a storage element, offers the consumer a very important choice - when to charge the battery.   And it is best, from the environment point of view, for the EV consumer to charge his/her EV  with his/her own solar generation. But the EV consumer rejects the proposal - saying that his EV is away from home during the day and available only for an 'over the  night' charging at home.

Simultaneously, looking at another growing menace of underage (less than 18 years old) students illegally riding vehicles powered by petrol engines with capacity over 50 cc or EVs with motors of capacity greater than 250 Watts, CAER has developed in-house a solar bicycle targeting students who are 16 years old and above.  After extensive lab and field testing, the indigenous and innovative solar bicycles for boys and girls was launched on the eve of World Environment Day, 5th June 2022.  Originally priced at 33K, but as a mark of protest against the unfair subsidy policy of the Government,  BEM has 'self-subsidised' or discounted the bicycles by  40% and has been selling them  for ₹19,940 (inclusive of taxes).  While the cost of the solar bicycle represents just 1% of the cost of an E-Car,  it is a pity that the Indian government holds no qualms in refusing to subsidise solar bicycles.  Imagine : the subsidy that the government doles out to a single customer purchasing an expensive E-car (that we have shown to be in futility) could, otherwise, have helped to subsidise 100 Nos. of truly environmentally friendly solar bicycles!

A solar bicycle, unlike an E-car, is truly an environment friendly solution and should be embraced by us Indians. In many other countries, such as the Netherlands, the learned (such as Professors) are observed to be using simple bicycles (not even an e-bicycle or a solar one) while the uneducated class such as the truck drivers are seen to drive expensive cars. In India, it is the opposite - cars are considered to be a symbol of status and to ride a bicycle is considered to be below one's dignity on any day other than World Environment Day! The lack of subsidy to e-bicycles and solar bicycles is adequate proof to support this statement. If India wishes to be truly environmentally friendly, it needs to mend ways, swallow its ego and pride, bow down before Mother Earth and do whatever it takes to reduce the fossil fuel combustion and associated green-house gases (GHG).  With a choice of 3 modes of operation - full throttle, pedal assist (PAS), and manual pedalling, a solar bicycle can suit every individual's taste, from the lazy ones to the ones who are health conscious.   

A solar bicycle has many other advantages over E-Cars. Solar bicycles have its own solar generation system mounted on it. Unlike E-Cars, one does not need to hunt for an EV charging station, nor does one need to waste time charging the battery at the charging station. As long as the solar panel on the cycle is kept facing the Sun during the day regardless if whether the bicycle is stationary or in motion, the battery would continue to get charged and the rider would be able to travel the maximum distance as indicated by the battery capacity. In case you do run out of battery power, unlike other e-vehicles you do not get stranded in the middle of no-where. You can pedal your way back home (to safety).

E-Car or E-bike Charging stations have other problems too. Eager to reduce the charging time, these stations increase the charging current which not only duly reduces the life of the battery but also could result in an explosion or the vehicle catching fire.  On the other hand, solar charging in the case of solar bicycles is more gentle and elegant, thereby increasing the battery life and reducing the chances of battery overheating. 

There are many others, seemingly insignificant but actually large differences. One is the efficiency of the charge process. When you charge an EV battery from an electric utility ( 230 Volt ac) mains, an AC to DC conversion takes place which is inefficient. This means high temperature - low reliability operation, or requirement for forced cooling or bigger heat sink for the charger.  Many AC to DC chargers are also seen to inject harmful harmonics into the AC system.  On the other hand, in case of a solar bicycle, the solar panel to battery charging process is DC to DC which is more efficient, which means that the charger can be smaller in size, more reliable, eliminating the need for cooling fans, thus generating less noise, etc. 

Unlike other EV chargers, the solar charger provided on the solar bicycle is ARM microcontroller based and intelligent. The ARM controller chooses an optimum - Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) point so as to perform the DC to DC (Solar to Battery) conversion efficiently, thus enabling  charging with a smaller solar panel that can be carried on a bicycle. On the other hand, carrying solar panels of sufficient capacity on an E-Car is still a distant dream.  

In the year 2022, the number of registered 4-wheeler in India is 7 crores, while the number of 2-wheeler is 21 crores, representing 5% and 15% of the Indian population. It has been studied that more than 80% of all the trips and 68% of the total distance made on these vehicles are to destinations at distances that are 8 kms or less.  Assuming that an average 4-wheeler and 2-wheeler consumes 360 litres and 120 litres per annum,  if the consumers shift to solar bicycles for the short trips, then that savings made would be ₹ 24K  and   ₹ 8K respectively. The savings made by each category (2 or 4-wheeler) per annum would be ₹ 1.7 lakh crores

Hence, if Indian consumers choose a solar bicycle over other vehicles for their short distance rides, it would represent an annual savings in petrol/diesel or gas consumption by ₹ 3.4 lakh crores, forex savings of ₹ 1.7 lakh crores, CO2 emission reduction by 170 million tonnes and marketable carbon credits worth about ₹ 13,000 crores. These figures need to be considered seriously by the policy and decision makers guiding India's future.    

Published on World Environment Day -  5th June 2022 by Dr. Vithal Narasinha Kamat, Baroda Electric Meters Ltd.
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