India has tremendous potential as an economic powerhouse of the future, but it also faces some significant development challenges. India’s population is on track to be the world’s most populated nation by 2022, surpassing even China. Yet India also has a considerably smaller carbon footprint than China because millions of people lack access to modern energy services. If India is ever to realize its economic potential, it desperately needs to build energy infrastructure and find innovative ways of providing energy to its rapidly expanding population.
One unorthodox system for dealing with that problem is being introduced by Manoj Bhargava, the billionaire behind 5 Hour Energy drinks. His solution is bicycles. Bhargava, who was born in Lucknow in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh wants to use bicycles and pedal power as a means to help solve part of India’s electrical problems. The concept is that Indians are sold or given stationary bikes to generate free electricity using a battery attached to the bike. That battery is charged as the rider pedals the bike. Pedaling turns a generator, which in turn produces electricity that can be stored in the battery. The battery can then be removed and used to run appliances through a house. The current design of the bike provides a day’s worth of energy with only an hour of pedaling. Related: The U.S. Might Soon Lose Its No.1 Position In Petroleum Production
Generator bikes are not uncommon, but the key difference in this case is the stationary bike’s battery. Because of that battery, the turbine does not need to be constantly spinning, which in turn means you don’t need to be pedaling while cooking food or using a light. Indeed because the battery itself is removable, one obvious efficient solution is that bicycles could be shared across a community much like wells are. People could come and charge their battery then remove it making way for someone else. Indeed it’s even possible that some people could become professional bicycle riders and be paid by their neighbors to charge batteries for use by others.
The final price of the bikes has not yet been set as the system is still being developed, but the bikes themselves are inexpensive to begin with. With production facilities located in India and Singapore, the bikes are going to be cheap – anywhere from “free” to as much as $250 with a typical price of perhaps $100.
Bhargava’s solution, as strange as it may seem to consumers in the developed world, could actually make a huge difference in India. More than 20 percent of India’s billion plus people live with unreliable or no electricity at all. Across the world roughly 1.3 billion people have no electricity. There is no doubt that a distributed grid solution like a stationary bike has pros and cons. Related: Is OPEC About To Surprise The Oil markets?
On the one hand, stationary bikes are beneficial for people without electricity, and they provide a realistic way to generate power at very little cost even for poor communities, and they are a low-tech way to generate power that should be simple to repair and maintain. On the other hand, individual bikes are not a true cohesive solution to problems of an unreliable grid, nor are they an effective solution for more power intensive needs like operating a business. Finally, from a human effort standpoint, spending one waking hour working just to generate power is a relatively expensive proposition in cost terms.
On the whole then, the bike solution is novel idea in power starved India and it is certainly the kind of innovative thinking that should help to develop that economy over time. While it is only a temporary solution to a long-term problem, it is positive step for a country that is key to global economic growth over the next 20 years.
By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com
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