Over the years we hear of all sorts of wonderful new inventions being trialled. Oops! The majority disappear never to be heard of again. Except for cars that can fly. I can remember reading about these in Practical Mechanics magazines my father used to get back in the 1950s. There must be some law that requires an updated version of the same concept to republished in PM every five years. God knows how many times I've read this pointless idea over and over!
Anyone who knows how irresponsible about half the motoring fraternity is must breath a sigh of relief that the idea never gets off the ground commercially. Literally never gets off the ground - decade after decade. Who wants idiot drivers in the sky as well? At least when an empty beer can is thrown from a yobbo car at eye-level you can usually see it coming. After the careening idiots are far enough away [the subtle art of diplomacy] the honour restoring single finger can be raised. But just imagine if beer cans falling out of the sky were a regular feature of Saturday nights. We wouldn't even see them coming. Klonk. Ow!! Klonk! Ow!
Cars in the sky when half of Christchurch drivers don't even understand the right hand rule? Never.What is Practical Mechanics thinking of ? What world do these grease nuts and back shed boys actually live in?
Along with the spring loaded shoes designed to walk up hills back in 1890 (also consigned to the patent flip-top dustbin of history) it is easy to write off most ideas as, yeah right, yeah, yeah ...we'll see about that, pigs will fly etc We have been hearing for years about the electric car, the hybrid bus, the solar go-cart, the electric toothbrush that folds out into a small bicycle that can be carried onto a subway (and removes 50% more tartar). Yawn.
But believe me, as I stand on a windswept, darkened quake-ravished corner of Christchurch, dressed in nothing but a prophet's sack cloth, brick-dust for ashes in the mouth, believe me in this prophecy, oh passing stranger. Forget Ken Ring, forget the Reverend Camping (at this point I clamp a skeletal bony claw upon your arm) ... the electric bus is coming.
There are just too many big signs in the wind to ignore; I believe electric buses, en mass, in great whispering hordes, are just around the corner. And what bus user would ever believe that, that a bus is just around the corner, is coming sooner than realised or expected. And I am not talking hybrid buses, whatever niche market they will or will not occupy - I am talking purely electric. I am not talking trolley bus, but purely battery powered. The only overhead wires (if at all) are those at termini where cantilevered arms on the bus roof lift up to recharge - typically, totally recharged in six hours; 50% recharged on rapid charge in 30 minutes. And recharged over and over and over, many thousands of times in a battery lifetime.
China which clearly thinks light rail is a waste of time, preferring Maglev, Commuter train, and spectacular Bus Rapid Transit systems or conventional bus has trialled these rechargeable buses in 20 cities for five years - millions, millions of kilometres. A key factor [seems to be] the Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery developed and refined by Chinese battery makers BYD - a battery so resilient it can be recharged to provide 300,000 kilometres of bus motoring at reasonable speeds for built up areas. This is also a battery it is claimed that can be recycled 100%. BYD has moved from batteries to vehicle manufacture, their F3 saloon the best selling car in China in 2009, and are now advertising a $US330 million share float.
In 2008 the richest man in the world, he surpassed Bill Gates in that year, Warren Buffet, raised fellow investor curiosity by buying a 10% ($US280 million) share of this Chinese battery company, BYD.
Buffet, a modest man but hugely successful investor who gives away 99% of his wealth obviously did his research well. Any purely electric technology for cars will almost certainly come through bus trials - no other vehicle does the mileage, winter and summer, faces the stop-start, light load-heavy load, stresses and changes that buses do. No other vehicle is operating in an easy to monitor corporate context, does thousands of miles and yet remains constantly close to a base point. The comparable costs of operating electric buses (delivering the equivalent of 200 horsepower in diesel terms) is about a quarter the cost per mile of diesel. Powerful rechargeable batteries like this also power huge container trucks at the Port of Los Angeles to transport 30 ton containers, so pulling power and grunt is not likely to be a problem,though maximum speed needs to expand, and presumably will.
Since then things have moved fast for BYD In March 2010 leading German based car maker Daimler AG (Mercedes) signed a “comprehensive technology partnership for the development of electric vehicles for China” with BYD. The potential flow on for the European market, is as clear as the Chinese market itself is huge despite the limitations of this phrase.
The following month BusinessWeek, in its annual exercise of identifying the 25 most innovative businesses in the world, named BYD, the first Chinese company to be listed, at No 8 place. This follows the previous year where BYD pushed Amazon and Apple from the top of the BusinessWeek Tech top 100 companies list.
Two months ago BYD opened its USA headquarters in Los Angeles. LA itself is delighted with scoring such a company, as it sees this as an important step forward in attracting green businesses. California leads the USA, in environmental strategies, with a requirement that all 15% of all urban buses purchased by transit authorities between 2008 and 2015 be zero emission. California is also one of the parties to building the 1,300 mile "electric highway", stretching down the west coast of the United States, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, with battery recharging stations (and coffee stops for refilling motorists) never more than 40km apart. In all the US Department of Transportation has near future plans for the installation of 4,600 charging stations in nine participating regions, the ChargePoint America program[me]. BYD see California as the logical gateway and platform from which to expand electric car and bus sales across the USA.
BYD displayed its electric cars at the premier North America International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in January. Only a few weeks later BYD signed a deal at the home of Canada's oen auto making industry, immediately across the river from Detroit, the city of Windsor - a city the size of Christchurch. Back in China Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were among those in attendance at a ceremony officially unveiling BYD’s new all-electric K9 e-bus, the first of the 1,000 all electric buses are due to begin providing public transportation services in China’s Hunan province later this year. Another indication that this has gone beyond isolated pilot trials - BYD has announced that it will provide three hundred all-electric eBus-12 vehicles to the 2011 World Student Games in Shenzhen.
A few weeks ago, at the end of April, European cities Copenhagen and Rotterdam announced have established trials in their respective cities with BYD rechargeable electric buses. Last week SMRT transport, the second largest transport group in Singapore (operating taxis, buses, trains that carry over 70 million passengers a month) entered into talks to get distribution rights for BYD electric cars, taxis and buses [SMRT summarised here] Said a BYD media release in Singapore "The fleet of 50 e6 Shenzhen taxis, in service since May 2010, have now surpassed 3 million kilometers in cumulative fleet miles. “The successful operation of the e6 taxis in Shenzhen for over a year now has proven the reliability of these EVs and our battery technology.” SMRT took out a top award " Asia-Pacific Best Service Portfolio" for public transport service quality and innovation at this years conference of the world's premier public transport operators organisation, the UITP.
Writes the respected Earth-Techling site;
Expect big things from BYD: not only does the company have a secure footing in the world’s largest automotive market, the manufacturer has been gaining grounds in several other countries around the globe as well.
Every now and then (except for shoes that walk up hills and cars that don't need to fly, God forbid they ever do) a technology that has been promised for eons suddenly makes the necessary combination of break throughs. Phones that you could see the person talking (Skype) took fifty years from schoolboy fantasy, cars took thirty years from invention of the internal combustion engine to become a common place reality at the end of World War 1.
My guess, is that after years of speculation, and "it will happy soon" but doesn't today we are seeing the birth of electric cars proper - which means congestion will continue; and the birth of electric buses proper - which means electric smooth (and in NZ with hydro power emission free ) journeys without need for wires or need for rails, and minimum noise disruption to passing through denser neighbourhoods.
Except in extreme cases where narrow coasts or valleys and high population densities apply, some one just pulled one of the rails out from under light rail! Why invest in yesterday's fixed rail technology when a fully electric light bus network can deliver twice as much to ten times more people for one third the cost?
And is their any possiblity viability in Christchurch becoming the research and manufacturing base for electric buses for the whole of Australasia? We just happen to have a bloody good, brand new, bus factory, here in Christchurch - dumped it seems by the American parent company who didn't meet the bills outstanding. It a business that has already had a long association with electrical concepts in buses. It still has, I imagine, a skilled work force, in over-lapping technologies of gas-electric hybrid buses.
Send Bob to Asia with that one; or better still someone who can see past light rail as the best option for Christchurch.