Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pros and Cons of Electric trike conversions

With the advent of 280 Million USD being made available by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to convert gasoline powered tricycles to electric, there's been a scramble for Philippine cities to convert the gas tricycles to electric. Here are my own personal notes as an etrike user.

Dave and I have been driving an electric tricycle as our main means of transportation since February 2010. We have been in research and development with them since then as well. There is no way I would go back to all gasoline vehicle after enjoying the e-Vehilces if we could make them go longer distances.

ET3 35 kilometers from home 1 way.
Click to enlarge.

The prototype we use daily is called ET3 (electric trike 3). It has a 3000 watt motor. It can seat three people in the back easily. Hills are also no problem for this unit. The tallest hill we have to climb is called Bakers Hill. I'd say it's approximately a 45 degree incline. My ET3 has no problems going up it, even with three people in the back.

Aside from the noiseless and emmission free ride, what I love most is that I have been able to save at least 3500. PHP per week in gasoline. This is what it used to cost to drive our Expedition the comparable miles or kilometers we drive in our daily lives.

The ET3 goes approximately 100 kilometers in distance. Generally I use it all day doing errands in town. ET3 It has deep cycle, closed cell batteries, they prefer being charged before being totally drained. So if I have a short run to town, say a round trip of about 10 kilometers, I charge it when I get home, then unplug it if we go to town again for dinner. When we get home from dinner, I plug it in overnight and then it's ready to go again the next day.
ET3 in Mangingisda, Puerto Princesa. Click to enlarge

The cost to charge the 3KW unit is approximately 30.00 Php per day. We charge two units every night or during the day in between runs, and frankly, I can't really see the difference in our electric bill.

At the showroom we charge 4 units for the city, and two  other 3000 watt units. One of the city's Ejeepney's has a 7000 watt motor. We run an air conditioner all day when at the office and the bill there runs about 3500. PHP per month. Charging all of them is less than the cost of a week of running to the farm in our Expedition.

We put the 1500 watt electric motorbikes on a dedicated meter and the cost of running them is about 13.50 PHP for 60 kilometers. Keep in mind, the costs will vary from city to city. Puerto Princesa's electricity, I believe, is one of the highest in the country.

I think one of the biggest hurdles is the up front cost. People somehow have it in their minds that an electric vehicle should be cheaper than a gasoline run one. This is simply not possible yet.
Two ET3's and 1 electric motorbike.
Click to enlarge.

But basically here is a simplistic calculation to go by. If you spend 10,000. PhP per month in gasoline, at the end of a year you will have spent 120,000. PhP.  Now that's a lot of dough in gasoline!

To charge an electric tricycle is approximately 800.00 PhP per month, at the end of the year you will have spent 9600.00 PHP.  Now I'm no mathematical genius, but I believe that is a savings of 110,400.00 PHP per year put back into your pocket at the end of the year.

This disadvantage of an etrike is that you cannot overload them like you can a gasoline engine. The electric motors are not as forgiving. Plus most units do not exceed 100 kms in distance. We watched one motor burn up last February (not our brand) when it was pushed over it's limit on an extremely steep hill.
ET3 is sexy at night

Overloading the units with too many passengers also causea the distance to dwindle. Driving the units too fast or "goosing" them like a gas motor, will cause the batteries to discharge faster as well.

In most Philippine cities they have what they call boundaries or routes. My suggestion is to replace the gas trikes with electric ones and set the boundaries a little below the limits of the units. You just know these trike drivers are going to push the envelope.
Mayor Edward Hagedoron ET3

The other very important factor in conversion to electric trikes would be an extensive training period that should be required before the drivers take possession of the units. The drivers need to be taught the many variables in passsengers loads etc.

We have eletric motorcycles out in town and when they bring them in for repair, its almost always operator error. And worse, they have tried to fix them on their own, compounding the problem.

It's not just a matter of converting gas trikes. It's not that easy. It's also a matter of re-educating the drivers. Without doing this, I am afraid the conversion will be more problematic in the long run. And this, is a monumental task on it's own, given that most drivers have not even gone to high school.

Once so many hundreds are rolled out across the nation, there is the problem of parts and service. We intend to train people as we build so they will develop the skills to weld, build the fiberglass bodies, install and repair the motors etc. We will be working with the local technical institutions who are providing OJT's (On Job Trainees). At the end of this training they will be able to branch off on their own or we will hire them for the next batch of trikes and so on.

With the help of Micro Financing, they should be able to open up their own repair shops and provide any after market accessories each trike driver, I am sure will want to add on later. This would be a good template for the other cities or entrepreneurs to follow. Without proper training in the serivice area, the plan to replace all the gas trikes will create more problems down the road for the end user. I speak from my own experience.

As part of our public education, Dave and I do take the ET3's to the Baywalk on week end evenings when we can. We have loaded them up with 11 to 12 children and we take them up and down the length of the Baywalk. I can feel the burden on the units, but they still perform well. However, when driving home, the battery guage is inevitably much lower than had I just run to town on my own.

Dave with 11 children on ET3
The electric Trike for the Puerto Princesa International Airport will have a 5000 Watt motor and will handle about 5 to 6 passengers comfortably, plus luggage and is currently being assembled in Puerto Princesa. It should be unveiled by the end of November.  It is part of our vision to create a new clean e trike industry for the city and to create about 4 to 5 new job positions to sustain it with the cooperation of the local techincal schools providing OJT's ( on job trainees) which we will be able to hire once the 40 e-trikes go into production.

Related articles:
ADB offers $280-million loan for e-bikes

DoE Targets Tricycles to Run on Electricity

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