In a previous blog, we followed in the footsteps of German regional city, Stuttgart, in its quest to become a pedelec or e-bike city. This time around, we dig into the innovations they and other organizations use to rid the challenges perceived by their audiences.
And what are among their top three e-bike concerns?
More on that in a bit but staying with Stuttgart, a city with ambitions for a 20% bike modal share and a regional target of 100,000 e-vehicles on its roads by 2020, it has it’s work cut out.
Working closely with (pedelec and e-bike test authority) ExtraEnergy, it is doggedly determined to succeed, as shown by its molding and re-molding of their — pedelec rentals, battery exchange stations and pedelec leasing — strategies in light of research data, expert advice and to a certain extent, political sway.
One such research was conducted by the German medical insurance company AOK and ExtraEnergy via the national three-month long “With the Bike to Work” initiative. Started in 2001, this annual event is the joint effort of AOK and cycle association ADFC (Allgemeine Deutsche Fahrrad-Club) which expanded to 168,000 riders in 2009, the same year pedelecs were allowed to participate.
Over 70% majority of those surveyed felt pedelecs are suited for work and leisure commutes but many viewed them as “too expensive” in terms of the two-wheeler and its battery, plus there were concerns if and how convenient it would be to re-charge the batteries.
Strategies to overcome the concerns
For starters, the city’s approach was to strike up a “development partnership” with DB Rent GmbH, which runs the country’s “Call-A-Bike” rental scheme (established in 2007), to include pedelecs.
Next, there was the pedelec leasing route, whereby customers sign a 4-year contract — similar to cell phone contracts – where they pay €25-30 (about $33 – $39) per month, plus a €30 (about $40) per year to have access to charged batteries. There will be more on this topic in another blog to come.
Where re-charging is concerned, the most common would be to charge your pedelec or e-bike at home but that’s not a whole lot of good if you plan to venture out on distances beyond the range of your battery. It’s no fun running out of juice and unsure of where to re-charge your battery. Now that’s where battery exchange vending machines and quick charging stations come to the rescue.
America’s offerings in this e-bike realm
Stateside, two Californian companies that offer the technologies to re-charge electrical vehicles are Coulomb Technologies and Better Place.
The former offers charger stations (to public and private institutions, fleets and retailers) and an internet portal through which it manages its services. There is a 80:20 split between the operator and Coulomb. Thus far, they have networks across the nation, Europe and Australia. Here is a snippet of what they offer.
Better Place, on the other hand, unveiled its battery-swapping stations in 2009 that can have electric car drivers on the road again with a new battery within 40 seconds. They work in partnership with a slew of companies and have a global reach as far Denmark, Israel and Japan. If an electric car can do it in 40 seconds, imagine what it would and should be for e-bikes.
And finally, the F.A.C.S.
German industrial designer Anke Scheiblhuber — in designing for public charging infrastructure for e-scooters in Taiwan – suggests to make the re-charging service concept as simple as
free-standing, or wall-mounted vending machines with substitute batteries be installed at the roughly 4,700 7-Eleven shops in Taiwan, at petrol stations, train stations or in licensed shops.
Throughout these developmental stages, invaluable lessons have been and continue to be learned. For instance, Japan’s initial attempt was flawed as it was limited to the non-standard technology of one manufacturer. Stuttgart’s use of standalone or independent infrastructure turned out too expensive at €25,000 (about $33,000) per station, and according to Hannes Neupert of ExtraEnergy, charging stations should cost no more than €3,000 (about $4,000).
With battery charging services or any service schemes for that matter, be they bike-share, cell phone or even social media, in order for them to take off en masse, its infrastructure is key and it has to be Fast, Affordable, Convenient and Simple to operate, or in short FACS.
We will be keeping tabs on how Stuttgart’s initiatives and the other technologies mentioned here pan out. Meanwhile, do feel free to share your thoughts, ideas or suggestions on any of the concepts highlighted.
Update: According to a Taiwan Today Jan 5, 2011 news report, Taiwan will install a nationwide battery exchange system at 3,000 convenient sites (gas stations, convenience store, parking lots etc) over the next 3 years. For more, please follow this link.
Photo credit _tophee_ via flickr and courtesy Creative Commons 2.0 Generic