New solar rickshaw offers freedom from fumes

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Even as debates rage over the alarming levels of pollution in cities across the country, the battery operated e-rickshaws have come as a breath of fresh air. After New Delhi, where they found legal approval, Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, and recently, Ludhiana in Punjab have seen use of these vehicles.

In Maharashtra, they are operating in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik. In Kerala, the port city of Kochi is now in the news, for an e-rickshaw powered by solar energy will hit the road on August 16.

Georgekutty Kariyanappally, the brain behind this innovation, says that excessive pollution through conventional vehicles and autos inspired him to create a vehicle that would use renewable energy and have no carbon emissions. “Living in Kochi, I have been witness to the pollution and seen people suffer on this account,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

For Kariyanappally, who is an ardent advocate of solar power, the last 16 years have been spent in creating products such as a solar poultry incubator and a solar cow milking machine. He thinks that with its abundance of bright sunlight, solar power is the way to go for India. His latest venture, the solar rickshaw, he explains, is going to help the working class and will also be a non-polluting source of transport. His main intention is to have a single mini public transport system as a feeder passenger vehicle for metro stations. “The aim is to make public transport affordable for the working class,” he said.

Apart from being ecofriendly, the vehicle is cost-effective. “I had discussions with many auto-rickshaw drivers in Kochi and found that they are hiring an auto for 12 hours at the rate of INR 250 ($3.74) from auto owners. Then again, they require INR 250 for diesel to ply for approximately 80 to 100 km a day. So per km, they charge INR 10 from passengers,” said Kariyanappally. “At the end of the day, after spending INR 500, they manage to save INR 500 for their family.”

“The solar rickshaw is available at INR 125,000. Since there are no rent and fuel charges, they will save INR 500. With a solar panel of 250 watts, the rickshaw, when stationary, say at a stand, can be charged. Once they are on the run, they can use the battery. Moreover, the local Grameen banks or any other bank can give them a loan with 5% interest. The local government can give carbon credits to rickshaw owners and a subsidy of around 50% can be easily worked out. As per my calculations, a solar rickshaw driver can easily earn INR 1,000 in a day. The only expense he will need to incur is the cost of maintaining the vehicle.”

The main body of the e-rickshaw is being made through a tie-up with a vehicle design and manufacturing company. It is then converted into a solar rickshaw in Kochi. The service will start with 16 solar rickshaws. Kariyanappally has also got an order for 100 such vehicles from Elite Foods, a bakery, in Trichur. Eventually, he plans to introduce these vehicles in all the southern states, since when it comes to e-rickshaws, these provinces lag behind compared with their counterparts in the North.

There is a lot of interest, but the vehicle will need to be customised as per consumer needs. “A vegetable vendor’s requirements will differ from say a baker. So, they have to be made according to the need and use,” Kariyanappally said.

His plans include either a franchise or a manufacturing hub near Bangalore to distribute these rickshaws. Bangalore, he adds, is an obvious choice, since “it is centrally located in South India.”

In the years to come, Kariyanappally believes that solar rickshaws are going to get more popular. India definitely needs to improve its public transport system in a very big way – today only 10% of the population owns private vehicles, and cities are already choked by their exhaust fumes.

With the government now planning to provide free charging stations for battery operated vehicles, the future of e-rickshaws appears secure. For the ones powered by the sun, a solar power station at every auto stand is in the offing, says Kariyanappally.

Stressing on the need for a strong policy, he said, “This is a must if public transport has to switch over to renewable energy. Our policymakers must oversee these issues so that electric vehicles and rickshaws get a further impetus. A firm policy and guidelines will make India a role model for others to emulate.”

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