Solar vehicles to replace 'jugaad' vans in Sundarbans

To protect the ecologically-fragile islands of Sundarbans from noise and air pollution caused by motorised 'jugaad' vans, an alternative public transport model has been built using solar-powered electric vehicles.

Research body 'The Energy and Resources Institute' (TERI) and Paris-based Mlinda Foundation has developed the new model under which 50 solar vehicles would soon be launched in Patharpratima block of Sundarbans with consent from the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA).

Locally known as 'Vano', the motorised rickshaw vans are so far the only form of public transport available for 40 lakh people living in the Sundarbans delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site three-hours drive away from Kolkata.

Assembled with improvised arrangements, also known as 'jugaad' technology, it is powered by a diesel engine that uses an adulterated mixture of diesel, kerosene, naphtha, used engine oil, etc which gives out highly polluting emissions.

Under the pilot project, TERI would roll out 50 solar vehicles made by Tata Motors along with two solar PV based charging stations in a fringe island of the Sundarbans.

"This electric rickshaw can accommodate eight people and after getting charged with solar energy for 4-5 hours at the station, the 20 Ah battery can run for 40-50 kms in a day," TERI's Parimita Mohanty told PTI.

The charging station would be equivalent of a petrol pump and its 500W of solar module would charge the rickshaws.

Once the project is successfully demonstrated in the first phase, TERI would engage social entrepreneurs to scale up the model in Sundarbans.

"We want to make it a commercially viable model as we will ask the rickshaw operators to buy the vehicles," Mohanty said.

The cost of the solar rickshaw would be around Rs 4-5 lakh while the charging station would cost around a lakh.

"We did a trial study with two such vehicles for three months to understand how these rickshaws can be run in the region after which we came up with this model," the TERI researcher said.

Besides zero emissions, the solar vehicles would be noiseless too.

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