M3 Features

Solar Vehicles in Sunderbans

February 13, 2014

To protect the ecologically-fragile islands of Sunderbans 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 Sunderbans with consent from the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA).

A boost for transport

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 Sunderbans delta, a UNESCO World Heritage. 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 Sunderbans. "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 said. 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 Sunderbans.

"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.

An environment-friendly solution

The engines of ‘jugaad’ vans are notorious for creating noise pollution as they disturb birds and marine life while plying along the river banks. Home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, the archipelago of Sunderbans is known for its rich wildlife and mangrove forests. A baseline study by Mlinda Foundation estimates there are around 19000 such 'jugaad' vans in the entire Sunderbans.

"The carbon content is very high in the adulterated diesel they use and therefore these vans are the major source of pollution inside Sunderbans," Mohanty said. For locals and tourists who venture into the villages, these vans are also risky and uncomfortable. Absence of 'pucca' roads is another issue as it is estimated that only about 300 km of metalled road exists in the entire area of about 4500 sq km of Sunderbans.

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