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Phuket expat pilots solar powered bikes and trikes

In Steven Spielberg’s classic Back to The Future trilogy, the year 2015 was depicted with futuristic skyways and uber-efficient flying cars that could be powered by household garbage. ]

With only one year to go, it’s safe to say that Mr Spielberg’s vision for the future missed its mark by a long way.

phuket solar bikeHardly advanced from 30 years ago, many of our cities’ roads are still backed up with gas-guzzling automobiles built for comfort in bumper-to-bumper traffic – a so-called modern way of life that perpetuates if not validates global oil conflicts and the necessity for ongoing drilling in the Middle East, North America, the Gulf of Mexico and of course, closer to home, in the Gulf of Thailand.

But, as Dylan sang hopefully in the 60s, the times they are a’ changin’ – and an advanced and greener future is just around the bend, insists Phuket expat and businessman, Josef Memmel. Having previously lived and worked in India and China,

Josef finally moved to Phuket in December 2012 to co-found Conasiam Co Ltd, under which he operates Phuket Green Bike, an importer and seller of electric bicycles, scooters and three-wheelers with a small showroom located on Sai Yuan Rd in Rawai.

“As a retired automotive engineer and now a dealer of electric bikes, going solar was the natural next step,” Joe remarks, as he gives The Phuket News an exclusive demonstration of his three prototype solar powered electric bikes that he designed and built here in Phuket.

Phuket solar bike 3His initial, fully functional prototype is a three-wheel electric scooter that’s already been proven roadworthy; Josef’s already driven it between Rawai and Phuket Town on a number of occasions.

“I haven’t had to plug her in yet, it gets enough charge just from driving around and parking it in the sun. I drove to the golf course the other day, and after a few hours of golf, it was fully charged again to come home,” he said.

It has a range of up to 40 kilometres per full charge and a top speed of about 30 kilometres per hour, which technically means it doesn’t need to be registered with the Land Transport office.

Josef explains that a solar vehicle is simply an electric bike that doesn’t need to be plugged in – though has the option to do so, on a cloudy day for instance. Unlike a normal electric vehicle, which needs to be plugged into the grid to charge, a solar vehicle gets it charge from a photovoltaic (PV) panel. Josef’s primary prototype uses a 180 Watt (24 volts) monocrystaline panel to charge a 20 AmpHour (48V) lead acid battery back, which supplies power for the vehicle’s 500W (48V) motor.

“I ordered this special step-up charge controller from the US, which increases the voltage from the [24V] panel to charge the [48V] battery,” Josef explains, pointing to the dashboard consul.

“The higher the voltage of the motor, the better the efficiency,” he says.
On the subject of efficiency, Josef notes that continuing improvements in battery technology has positive implications for the future of solar-powered vehicles.

phuket solar bike 2“I used lead-acid batteries with these protoypes, but I’ll design future models with lithium batteries. Generally speaking, lithium batteries are half the weight of lead acid, but can last twice as long. They also cost about twice as much,” he explains, noting that lithium batteries can cost between US$15-20 per AmpHour, though like anything, the price will reduce with economies of scale.

As for his other prototypes, one is a two-wheel dual pedal and motor powered bike, and the other is a pedal and motor trike. As they are much smaller, it is only practical to use smaller panels – 40 and 55W, respectively. Their battery packs are also smaller – about 12Ah.

“These [smaller solar prototype] bikes would normally have a range of about 35 to 40km, but the solar panels can increase the range by about 50 per cent,” he notes.
While Josef did not design his prototypes with the immediate aim of sale, he can and will tailor design and convert a solar bike or scooter for anyone that is interested – just drop by his shop or give him a call.

Josef has a vision to collaborate with like-minded individuals in the public and private sector to build solar powered charging stations across the island – at shopping centres, bars, restaurants, golf courses and at the beaches, but of course, “It will take time.”

“The Thai market is still in its infancy. In China, electric bikes and solar power are everywhere now… it was rare to see a gas-powered scooter there. But I’m confident that Thailand will change soon, as people become more aware of the existing technology and as the technology continues to improve.”

Indeed, change is inevitable, and it’s people like Josef – who have the knowledge, experience and vision – who will help Phuket to realize the positive change sooner rather than later.

For more information, visit the website: phuketgreenbike.com

Phuket News

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