Solar electricity is a great renewable resource, but does it make sense to use it on everything? Or, just because we can, does it mean we should?
I'm a solar 'booster' in general, and am pretty bullish about our prospects for a solar-powered future, but sometimes I come across a so-called innovation that employs solar energy in a way that just makes me sigh and shake my head, because it just doesn't seem to make sense.
While I am a proponent of solar gadget chargers for off-grid electricity or backcountry convenience, I certainly don't think they move the needle much, if at all, when it comes to practical low-carbon energy solutions. Most of the time, we'd be better served by a residential-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) system coupled with portable battery packs, which would allow us to power our homes with the sun's energy and then take some of it with us for on-the-go gadget charging. This can allow for a much larger (and more long-term) impact on our energy footprints, although it also comes at a much higher initial cost.When it comes to electric bicycles, or e-bikes, there's a lot to be said for their ability to enable more people to get on two wheels regularly, and to offer a viable alternative method of transport for commuting and running errands for those who may not ride a bike otherwise. But when it comes to certain aspects of electric mobility, such as the oft-touted 'range anxiety' that may keep some would-be electric vehicle owners from purchasing an EV, sometimes we get caught up in the novelty of 'solutions in search of problems.' And that seems to be the case with the Maxun One, a solar bike concept that is claimed by its inventor to be "the most fuel-efficient vehicle" in the world.
Albert van Dalen, a software engineer, inventor, and cycling enthusiast from Maastricht, Holland, built his Maxun One solar cycle with both a front and rear solar cell array, which are said to be able to power the bike up to 15mph / 25km/h on solar electricity alone.
The bike includes "a small battery" for optimal operation, and to provide some electricity "in the absence of sunlight" as well as to handle the bike's initial acceleration needs and to handle steeper grades. Riding the bike is claimed to be "like having a perpetual motion machine," and the inventor says he's put thousands of miles on the bike since its construction.
All of that sounds really great, but take a quick look at the latest video of this solar bike in action, and think about what might happen to a pedestrian or other cyclist who gets hit by the leading edge of the horizontal solar array at 15-20 miles per hour.
Sure, it's already quite painful to be hit by a bicycle, period, but somehow the thought of being sliced in half (OK, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I don't think it's much of one) by a fast-moving solar panel is a whole other can of worms. And yes, cars are already dangerous, so perhaps this bike is somewhat safer to pedestrians than a car, but then again, cars aren't usually barreling down bike paths at speed. The Maxun One isn't a pedal-assist e-bike, either, but uses a throttle-based system to control the front hub motor, which makes this bike seem more like a tiny electric motorcycle than an electric-assist bicycle.
Aside from the potential hazards to others, the Maxun One also suffers from a ridiculous price tag, which the Daily Mail quoted as being about £80,000 each ($115,000) for one of a limited run of 50 bikes. For that price, why not buy a Tesla?
That said, I think this is an interesting idea, and not completely without merit, but until solar cell efficiencies have been massively improved, to a point that its solar array can be much smaller, the Maxun One doesn't seem like it's got too bright of a future among e-bike or conventional bike enthusiasts. But I'd love to be proved wrong...