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Riding On Solar Rickshaws Still Bumpy
 
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Riding On Solar Rickshaws Still Bumpy  
 
The finance minister has given the much-needed fillip to the solar rickshaw project to speed up its commercialisation, but manufacturers face several challenges.   
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Monday, March 29, 2010 The headline—1,000 solar rickshaws to ferry Commonwealth Games athletes—was flashed in all newspapers this month. The green and innovative project, between the Delhi government and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was launched with a bang, with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee proposing in his 2010 Budget a concessional excise duty of 4 per cent to solar rickshaws and its key parts and components also being exempted from customs duty. But will this move from the finance minister speed up its manufacturing and commercialisation?





After many a slip between its conception and realisation, the technology for these solar rickshaws is finally ready, but where are the takers? The solar-powered pedicab—soleckshaw—a zero carbon vehicle, has been developed by the Durgapur-based Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI), one of the 37 CSIR laboratories, under the design leadership of Palash Maji and PS Banerjee. CSIR has so far transferred the license for manufacture of soleckshaws to only three units—Faridabad-based Modular Machines, Kolkata-based DEAN Systems and Hyderabad-based HBL Power Systems Ltd. “These are a few corporates that have shown interest in manufacturing. We are looking for more manufacturing partners,” says Professor Gautam Biswas, director, CMERI.

Conceived in 2008, soleckshaws, the brain child of Professor Samir Kumar Brahmachari, director general, CSIR, went through some technical delays as prototypes failed to withstand the rigours of driving in busy streets like Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. “When the vehicle has to stop and start rapidly in a place like Chandni Chowk, the motors get damaged,” says Biswas. “But now the models have been customised as per the feedback,” he adds.

Challenges faced by manufacturers

The manufacturers, who have taken the license from CSIR to manufacture the solar rickshaws, are however, facing a different set of challenges. “We have sufficient production capacity, but we need support from governing bodies in terms of providing subsidy/finance to make soleckshaws affordable to the actual end customer—the rickshaw puller. At the moment demand is less. We have the capability to match production capacity as per the demand,” says Anil Sahoo of HBL Power Systems.

The soleckshaw requires various components. “We have identified few vendors for each component. Batteries being one of the most important components, is our own in-house production,” says Sahoo.

Modular Machines plans to manufacture 3,000 solar rickshaws this year despite the fact that it has the capacity to manufacture 7,500 such products. “The demand for soleckshaws is yet to pick up. Each solar rickshaw costs Rs 31,000 plus excise duty. The cost can be brought down, making the vehicle more affordable, by greater volumes of production,” says Alok Vijay Bhatnagar, CEO, Modular Machines. Bhatnagar, who has modified the technology further as per CSIR's requirements, feels that a lot of awareness and lobbying is required to make solar rickshaws successful.

“We are persuading clients like NGOs who are helping poor rickshaw pullers to provide them soleckshaws through micro finance schemes; the postal department plans to deploy soleckshaws as their postal carts, and it also may find use in tourism departments, etc.,” says Sahoo.

How the soleckshaw works

Designed to ease the physical burden of about 8 million cyclerickshaw pullers, soleckshaws are pedal-operated and motor assisted. It can run at a speed of 15 km per hour, and can touch 40 km per hour. The batteries can be charged at a designated central location which houses the solar panels. “However, setting up a solar charging station is quite costly,” says Biswas. Central Electronics Ltd is authorised to set up such stations in India. Kolkata-based INSILICA is also ready for setting up solar charging stations.

While there are no solar panels on the rickshaw itself, each soleckshaw carries a deep cycle battery with a specially designed 36-volt battery-powered electric motor at 9 mph for about 25 miles per charge. The exhausted batteries could be replaced with fully charged ones at the charging stations. The rickshaws will also have mobile phone charging points and FM radio.

“The manufacturer can add a solar panel with the soleckshaw, but that would raise the cost of each rickshaw. Usually a 1 m x 1.5 m panel is capable of producing 300 W. A soleckshaw needs about 240 W of power,” informs Biswas.

Commercialisation

The soleckshaw's use will not be confined to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. CSIR sees the event as a demonstration project and is looking towards wider implementation. “An innovative business model is being evolved with NGOs, banks, environment conscious corporates and manufacturing organisations to make the rickshaw available at the cost of an ordinary rickshaw,” says Biswas.

The Centre for Rural Development is helping CSIR to deploy the soleckshaw in the Chandni Chowk area of Delhi. Some soleckshaws are already plying in Chandigarh. Dhanbad and Bokaro are also using them as a technology demonstration project. Kinetic Motors and the India-800 Foundation have evinced deep interest in deployment of soleckshaws in various cities of India.

Srabani Sen



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