Published: 26th June 2019
Green Ride: This group is on a mission to travel across the country on a solar-powered auto rickshaw
The initiative SunPedal Ride headed by Sushil Reddy hopes to raise awareness on clean energy
In a day and age when prices of electricity and fuel are sky-rocketing, not to mention the danger they pose to the environment, switching to solar energy might sound like a great option. While the concept of solar energy isn't really new to us anymore, there are still a lot of misconceptions and questions surrounding it. Is it safe, is it really more cost-effective, is it even feasible? — these are some of the common concerns people have when it comes to making the big decision to go solar.
In order to create more awareness about solar energy and clear the misconceptions, Sushil Reddy and his team embarked on a journey which they call the SunPedal Ride. They aim to travel throughout the country, covering the Golden Quadrilateral on a solar-powered auto rickshaw. Sushil, who is an engineering graduate from IIT Bombay and who worked in a solar energy company before deciding to dedicate his expertise to creating awareness, says, "I realised that there are misconceptions about solar energy, for instance, that it is very costly. People don't know the basic facts about how useful it is in the long run. The idea of creating awareness started from there."
In 2016, Sushil decided to go on a solar-powered electric bicycle ride across India and talk to people from different backgrounds. The journey of about 7,500 kilometres earned his team a Guinness World Record for the longest journey on an electric bicycle that was solar powered. SInce then, he has gone on to do similar journeys in other countries on various electric vehicles. This year, however, he wanted to choose a medium that Indians can relate to — hence the decision to travel on a solar-powered auto rickshaw.
Power up: The autorickshaw has a solar panel through which it gets its energy, but it can also be electrically charged
The journey started from Bengaluru on May 25 and the idea was to cover four major cities in four regions — Chennai in the south, Mumbai in the west, Delhi in the north and Kolkata in the east, through the Golden Quadrilateral, the highway which connects these cities. "We started from Bengaluru, crossed Hubbali, Belgaum, Kohlapur, Pune, Lonavala, Mumbai, Gujarat, Udaipur, Dilwada, Ajmer, Pushkar and Jaipur. We've covered over 2,200 km in 22 days," says Sushil, who's currently at Jaipur. He adds, "From Jaipur, we will head towards Delhi, UP, Kanpur, Varanasi, Kolkata, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chennai and maybe Puducherry before we return to Bengaluru."
During the journey, the team talked to people and gave them basic information about solar energy. "For example, one kW of solar power costs approximately 1 lakh rupees. But solar panels last for 25 years. So it's a long-term investment. Solar power will not only help in cost reduction but also in saving the environment," says Sushil. While the rickshaw's battery is solar powered, it also relies on electric energy. "It is a retro-fitted rickshaw," says Sushil, and explains, "We see a lot of old auto-rickshaws that increases pollution. Retro-fitting is when you convert these old vehicles into electric vehicles. The advantage of this process is that you reduce the number of vehicles on the road. We have also added a solar panel on the roof. If you charge it once (four hours), it can cover up to 120 kilometres. With just solar power, it can cover up to 40 kilometres per day."
Talking about how they managed to fund this mammoth journey, Sushil says, "There are a lot of organisations that are supporting us. The Ibis group has been supporting us by providing accommodation and hospitality wherever they have hotels. They have the Sustainability Planet 2021 initiative which is in line with what we are doing. They also have electric vehicle charging stations in their hotels, which makes it really convenient for us. They also provided us with an emergency support vehicle that follows us throughout the journey. Another company supported us by retro-fitting the vehicle. Many people along our route have also been helping us in terms of food and other provisions." The biggest challenge though, he admits, is the heat, "We're doing it during the peak of summer and the temperature soars to 45 degrees almost every day. That can be quite strenuous."
"The idea is not just talking about clean energy, but showing people how it works and ridding them of their misconceptions," explains Sushil. The team allows people to test drive the rickshaw so that they know how it feels to drive a solar-powered vehicle. "We've got great feedback from people, especially from women and students. We met a lot of them who wanted to convert their vehicles to electric vehicles. We are trying to tell people that although the initial investment is big, ultimately, they will save a lot," Sushil concludes.