Home 2017 Riding the Sun

Riding the Sun

by Sushil Reddy
Riding the Sun

I am an IIT Bombay alumnus from the Energy Science Department. I rode a solar-powered electric bicycle for 7,424 km in 79 days. I started riding from IIT Bombay on 8th May 2016 and, for the next 79 days, rode across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to raise solar awareness. I returned to IIT Bombay on the 25th July.

The motivation behind this ride

I was working with kWatt Solutions Pvt. Ltd., a solar energy startup in IIT Bombay, when I got this idea. I believe that in a sector like solar energy, educating people about the product is the key to them appreciating its benefits in the long run. Solar energy is still new to many people in India and many of them have a lot of doubts and misconceptions regarding its working and benefits.

Young minds are the most inquisitive ones. Hence, I thought of targeting schools, colleges, universities and other organisations to talk about solar energy and give them a basic idea of the situation in India. The younger generations will be the most affected by energy crises in the future, and hence it is important for them to understand the importance of solar energy and embrace it in their daily lives. The summer months are the best time to spread this message of solar energy, and hence I planned to do this awareness ride in May and June.

I thus decided to ride a solar-powered electric bicycle to show people an application of solar energy and its benefits.

When you see something practically working on solar energy, your level of trust increases and you tend to appreciate the idea and the cause more. I thus decided to ride a solar-powered electric bicycle to show people an application of solar energy and its benefits. Nothing could be more eco-friendly and suited to the spreading of this message.

Laying the groundwork

Solar electric bicycle demonstration in Jamnagar.

I designed a solar electric bicycle, which is basically an electric bicycle whose battery is charged using solar energy. An electric bicycle reduces your physical effort by up to 50 percent, and by using solar energy to charge the battery, you reduce your expenses and help reduce your carbon footprint.

I then started approaching some companies to support my ride after explaining to them the cause and the need. I was lucky enough to get support from some companies, both financially and otherwise. Forming a team was the next step. Krunal Tailor, my colleague, agreed to come with me as part of a support crew to deliver lectures on solar system design. Krunal did his Masters in Sustainable Energy from RMIT University, Australia. Rajendra Bhaskar, my junior from IIT Bombay, currently in his fourth year, also joined me and planned the route and seminars. Himanshu Singh, an ex-Decathlon employee, was the mechanic for the ride.

Need for solar awareness in India

The Government of India launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, under which the target is to generate 100,000 MW of solar power in India. The MNRE (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy) has envisioned this target to be achieved by the year 2022. Currently, the installed solar capacity in India is approximately 9,000 MW.

There is an estimated requirement for 300,000 skilled solar professionals, comprising skill sets ranging from research, design and engineering to installation, operation and maintenance, and sales and marketing.

To achieve this ambitious target, there is a large requirement for skilled manpower in the solar energy sector. There is an estimated requirement for 300,000 skilled solar professionals, comprising skill sets ranging from research, design and engineering to installation, operation and maintenance, and sales and marketing. Currently, the number of skilled solar technicians in India is approximately 40,000.  There is a need for making people aware about the opportunities available in the upcoming solar energy sector.Basic solar awareness is the key.

My journey of creating solar awareness

Braving the sun and sands in Rajasthan.

I started my journey on 8th May from IIT Bombay. The idea was to make people curious and have them ask questions about the bicycle and solar technology in general throughout the journey, which was a success. People stopped me and asked about things like the solar panels, the working, benefits and cost of the bicycle.

I stopped for many people on the route and explained the working of the solar bicycle. It was a great conversation starter wherever I stopped for food or breaks.

Apart from the bicycle, many people had questions in their minds about how the whole solar energy system works. They had doubts as to how energy flows from the solar panels to the load, and what components there are in a solar energy system. While explaining about the bicycle, I also told people about the other applications of solar power, like utilising it to power one’s home, and gave them basic solar energy facts.

Explaining solar panels to them was an interesting experience, especially when they thought it was magic to get electricity out of the sun.

I passed through many cities, towns and villages, and cleared many myths about solar power, especially about how the system works and the costing. Since many people in India do not have the purchasing power that is required upfront for solar energy, costing was the most common question. I told people about many financial solutions that are currently available, in light of which people need not pay anything upfront and can continue to pay the monthly electricity bill even after installing solar power. Also, I enlightened people about the net metering idea, where people can sell power by feeding excess solar energy back into the grid.

In coastal Gujarat, many people in small villages had never even seen solar panels before. Explaining solar panels to them was an interesting experience, especially when they thought it was magic to get electricity out of the sun.

Some of the best memories on the road are from the interactions with the people who were stopping me, where I cleared their doubts about solar energy and took selfies with them later.

Also, I gave many solar awareness seminars in several cities along the route. In these seminars, I talked about the energy scenario in India,pointing out the increasing gap between the production and consumption of oil in the coming years,and how, currently, renewable energy accounts for approximately four to five percent of the overall energy share in India.

Some of the best memories on the road are from the interactions with the people who were stopping me, where I cleared their doubts about solar energy and took selfies with them later.

Then, I talked about the immense potential of solar energy, stating that India receives 5-7 kWh per square metre per day of solar radiation. I also talked about the Build Operate Transfer model, which encourages the common man to go for solar since it involves a drop in the monthly electricity bill when one opts for solar energy with a three-party agreement. Krunal Tailor explained the procedure to design a solar system for a household using a case study with approximate costing.

The ride itself was aimed at uniting and educating people about a cause that will dominate the future energy ecosystem. At these seminars, we demonstrated the working of the solar electric bicycle as an application of solar energy. The students were most fascinated. We also highlighted the fact that electric vehicles are the future of transportation since they are environment-friendly and economically viable in the long run. Electric cycles have added health benefits as well.

I also met the Secretary of the MNRE, Upendra Tripathy, and some scientists in Delhi during the ride. I discussed a few ideas with them on sustainable transportation using electric vehicles and stationary solar charging stations, which I am planning to implement in the future.

Key takeaways from the ride

Explaining solar panels to people at a dhaba on the highway.

There is a basic level of awareness among people about solar energy since they have seen solar panels in their vicinity, but people are still curious and want to know more about how the whole system works. They have little awareness of the components of the system, and most people are under the misconception that solar power is costly.

They have little awareness of the components of the system, and most people are under the misconception that solar power is costly.

There were many places along the ride where the local authorities had installed solar streetlights, but maintenance is the key issue here. Protection from theft is another major issue that many people shared with me. I believe that there is a need to have a nationwide fixed curriculum in the education system introducing solar energy to students right from school, both in theory and practice, so that they are aware of its importance and the impending energy crisis. Personally, this ride has taught me a lot of things, thanks to my interaction with so many people. Firstly,I learned about how people in India have many ideas in their minds but lack the direction required to implement it. There were many people giving us suggestions on the design of the bicycle itself, which were quite interesting. Secondly, people are quite welcoming and supportive if one puts in effort for a good cause. Thirdly, the whole experience has strengthened my focus, determination and patience, and has enabled me to persevere, both physically and mentally.

About the solar powered electric bicycle

Manufactured by Hulikkal Electro India Pvt. Ltd., the bicycle carried 240 watts of solar panels on a trailer attached to the bicycle.This trailer was made as a detachment to show people that the solar panels can be kept at home or left stationary. The bicycle had a 250 watts rear hub motor and a 48V Lithium Ion battery. It had an average speed of 20 kmph on flat surfaces.

Learning about the performance of the electric bicycle

The electric bicycle eases the effort involved in pedaling considerably (by up to 50 percent), especially on flat surfaces and gradients upto 5 percent.There is a lot of scope for customisation in the design as per user requirements. However, a lot depends on how one chooses the ride it. One can use the combination of physical effort and the motor effort to make the best riding experience for oneself. For rough, steep terrain, one has to be careful not to damage the electrical connections, battery or motor.

Other aspects of the ride

Route for ride: IIT Bombay, Surat, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Somnath, Porbandar, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Mt. Abu, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Bhatinda, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Pathankot, Shimla, Dharamshala, Roorkee, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur,  Sikar, Udaipur, Kota , Indore, Nagpur, Nashik, Thane,  IIT Bombay.

The route was chosen and planned considering maximum sunshine, favourable terrain, weather and safety for cyclists.

It was a fun yet challenging ride since I was riding in peak summer. I chose the summertime for this ride since the value of solar energy is the most in the summer and this was the best time to deliver this message. As they say, “Make hay while the sun shines.”

In September 2016, I got a confirmation from the officials about this ride being a Guinness World Record for the longest journey on a motorised bicycle.

It was a great adventure as we always woke up to a new day of planning the route, seminars, eating varied foods, and interacting with different types of people on the road. It was an experience of a lifetime.

Finding a location to stay everyday after riding for about 100-120 km was a challenge. Also the food was quite interesting and it gave a sense of how diverse India is in terms of people, culture and traditions. Many people hosted us for lunch and dinner, and helped us with accommodation throughout the route. I parked my solar cycle in police stations in Mahuva and Porbandar for the night. The police were very supportive. Even at state border crossings, the officials were curious to know more about the ride.

In September 2016, I got a confirmation from the officials about this ride being a Guinness World Record for the longest journey on a motorised bicycle. A pleasant surprise!

Upcoming ride in France in July 2017 – The SunTrip Tour

I have been invited as the special guest by Mr. Florian Bailly, the director of The Sun Trip Tour in France in July 2017. I will be riding a solar-powered ebike in the French Alps with 50 other participants across Europe.

I will be riding a solar electric bicycle in France and USA west coast (San Francisco to San Diego) starting June 2017. Anuj Karkare (my junior from Energy Department) and Rinal Chheda (my batchmate from IITB) will be joining me for my USA ride on their respective bicycles. I have invitations to talk at UC Berkeley and Caltech universities as of now. I am talking to more universities currently to arrange seminars.

I have been invited as the special guest from India to participate in the Sun Trip tour in France in July 2017. The French Embassy is supporting me to arrange seminars during my journey in France.

[Request: If any one/company is interested in supporting Sushil’s upcoming international solar ebike journey to promote the use of renewable energy, please write to him at <sushilr25@gmail.com>]

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