Tour de Sol: Quick Change Artist
One thing I enjoy about doing these Tour de Sol reports is catching up with people who started something a while ago. I like seeing where it has taken them.
Tony Locricchio, of Personal Electric Transport (PET), has been bringing teams to the Tour to demonstrate their vision of what would happen if quick-change battery systems took the place of plug-in-and-wait recharging. I caught up with him during the first day of technical testing, before his vehicles had arrived.
What has happened on the business-development front?
"We have moved to Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles has given us a very unique jump-start loan of almost $2 million to demonstrate how you can create American products with LA residents and mostly American parts, both for sale in the USA and for export. That experiment, which started in April 2003, is moving along and we are about 6 months ahead of schedule. The money is from the LA Department of Water and Power. Under their charter they set aside money for alternative uses of electric power. We chose a loan, as opposed to a grant, to show that if the experiment works it has to also be viable as a business.
"We are working on a brand new fueling system and the variety of vehicles that can make use of it. We hope that people will steal our ideas and create
similar vehicles that will use the same fueling system. We are told that some 2 million vehicles could be charged during off-peak time without adding one barrel of oil. So that is our focus." They are designing a system that can use the off-peak power to charge interchangeable, smart battery packs that fit a variety of vehicles, from scooters to buses, equipped for quick change. They would never be tied to a plug. Scooters would use one battery pack, the bus design uses 15. "It scales up as weight and passenger numbers scale up."
The pack, along with the power connectors, also has data ports. It is essential to the system that we know who has each pack. People and companies don't own their batteries. "When you need fuel, you simply switch the packs. Like a gas pump, you don't buy the pump. You just buy the gas in it." In this case the customer just buys the `juice' in the pack. When the vehicle pulls up to a station, a wireless Bluetooth data exchange between it and the station determines how the vehicle will be serviced. "For the smallest vehicles, the exchange of a pack will take about a minute."
They are taking this idea first to large fleet operators, such as the LA Port Authority. "After the Tour de Sol, we'll be doing a presentation to the New York City fleet managers in various departments." Later they will approach smaller operations. More information is available at 310-847-7555.
You were also telling me that PET has continued its relationship with the Micronesians, who were at the Tour de Sol in 2001. They were driving your vehicles to dramatize the point that global warming is having an effect, even in paradise. The rising sea level is making their islands smaller.
"As people who enter this event know, tremendous bonding takes place between the teams. The bonding that took place between ourselves and the Micronesian team has lasted.
"Micronesia is a world power, even though it is one of the smallest in terms of population and land area. Geographically it is spread over an area the size of the United States. They were responsible for putting together 40 island nations who operate as a block at the United Nations. They were responsible for getting the Kyoto Accords to pay attention to the global warming issues." (They were PET's introduction to the UN, where they demonstrated the PET vehicles to the UN Environmental Programme. People from the UN were part of the PET Tour de Sol team in 2002.)
"It was estimated that within 50 years significant portions of their islands will be under water." The time frame has been shortened. "It will be far less than 50 years.
"Because of that background, we have been working on a business plan to have a major demonstration of how a transportation system for a large island could work. The plan is to provide vehicles and fueling systems from Los Angeles to Micronesia as phase one. In phase two they will actually assemble vehicles in Micronesia", from parts shipped to them. In the third phase, once there is a significant presence in Micronesia, they will start to export assembled units to nations they have trade agreements with.
And I hear you are bringing a vehicle made from `native materials'?
"We have decided that it is not enough to make clean vehicles. You must also make them out of materials that are renewable. So we will have here our concept bamboo electric bicycle scooter."
Tony also spoke about a different model of vehicle ownership. He said that, currently, there are 2.3 vehicles per family in the United States. But another way to serve that transportation need would be to have families only own one large vehicle and a neighborhood vehicle. To cover their other needs, they would participate in communal ownership of a pool of vehicles, "everything from a limo, to a pickup truck, to a convertible." Houses would be smaller, with 1 and 1/4 garage, instead of 3. "Transportation has become the second largest cost in an American family's budget, which is ridiculous."
The complete set of Tour de Sol Reports for 2004 can be found at:
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