The future of e-bikes is sunny. At least that’s what some researchers from the Netherlands are hoping is the case. A study of the viability of solar-powered e-bikes is being conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Twente, in the city of Enschede, which is located in the eastern part of the Netherlands.
The Study: “The Smart Living Campus Project”
The study, entitled the “Smart Living Campus Project”, is an attempt to analyze the use patterns of e-bikes, with the ultimate goal of understanding how e-bikes can contribute to a sustainable transportation system. The fact that these particular e-bikes are solar-powered is a significant innovation. Solar-powered e-bikes introduce an extra layer of sustainability compared to more conventional e-bikes since the energy used to charge the batteries originates from a renewable source, namely, the sun. According to the study’s researchers, charging by photo-voltaic solar cells reduces CO2 emissions by a factor of twenty.
If solar-powered e-bikes prove to be a practical and economically feasible alternative to conventional e-bikes, they can be an important part of the development of a transportation system which is less dependent on fossil fuels, in this case, by having batteries which don’t rely on the grid for the electricity required to charge them. The researchers hope that this study can contribute to the knowledge base on solar-powered e-bikes, so that policy makers can make informed decisions with data collected from the actual usage of these e-bikes in studies such as this one.
Charging the Solar-Powered E-Bikes
There are two ways in which solar-powered e-bike batteries can be charged, and the study plans to collect data on both of these methods through the use of sensors (which I will talk about in more detail below). The first method of charging is, for lack of a better term, stationary charging, which takes places when the e-bike is not moving. The e-bike’s battery is hooked up to a photo-voltaic module, which gathers solar energy and converts it to battery power. The study’s participants will be able to charge their e-bike batteries in this stationary way both at home and at the office. For at-home charging, each participant will receive an electric charging kit consisting of a photo-voltaic module and a lead-acid battery. For the office, there will be a charging station located at the University of Twente, which will be capable of charging up to six e-bikes at a time, and which will charge the batteries in the same way as the at-home charger, by means of a photo-voltaic module to collect energy from the sun and convert it to battery power.
The second way of charging the batteries, which I am calling “mobile charging”, is by means of integrated solar cells attached to the wheels of the e-bikes, as you can see in the picture below.
What’s exciting about this method of mobile charging, and which separates solar-powered e-bikes from their conventional cousins, is that charging can take place while riding the e-bike, without the need to connect to a grid-based power source. This capability has the potential to change the game when it comes to e-bike excursions. If batteries can be re-charged while travelling, the range of e-bike excursions can be extended, and riders will find a new feeling of freedom and independence from the power grid.
There will be two methods used to collect data on the use of the solar-powered e-bikes during this study. First, sensors will be attached to the e-bikes to collect numerical data about the batteries, including sensors to measure three kinds of information: (1) battery voltage, which will provide information about the state of charge of the batteries, (2) discharge current, to give information on power consumption, and (3) a GPS sensor to measure space and time data. Secondly, riders will be asked to fill out questionnaires describing their experience using the e-bikes, which will enable the researchers to collect qualitative data on how satisfied or unsatistifed the participants were with these e-bikes.
Sun, Sun, Sun, Here it Comes
By December 2017, the researchers of this study plan to communicate their results by presenting them at an academic conference and by publishing a paper with the results and accompanying analysis. It remains to be seen whether the technology of solar-powered e-bikes is ready to rival that of conventional e-bikes. Regardless of what the future holds, studies such as this one provide hope for a sunnier future for our transportation systems, by telling us where we are in terms of the current technology, and perhaps where we need to go. Somewhere in Enschede, at the University of Twente, a few researchers are hoping we go the way of the sun.
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