Tag Archives: Electric bikes

What will the High Street be like in 2050?

This is a milestone week for human stupidity. We commemorate the end of World War One, a dreadful waste of life which could have been avoided by an agreement in 1914. To demonstrate that we have learned nothing, one hundred years later we are about to drift into another disaster. Scientists have been warning of the dangers of global warming for over 20 years. Their latest report predicts long term consequences that are even worse than the First World War. Those effects can be reduced by an agreement in 2015 and rapid action thereafter. If not, things will get out of control. Will we learn the lessons of history?

As my contribution I show a low carbon High Street in 2050, to demonstrate that the changes  we need to make are really are not that difficult!

A High Street in 2050
A High Street in 2050

What’s the difference? The Café looks normal. There are cars parked. The shops are busy. The changes are inside the shops.

The shop beside the café provides home services. Tax on carbon emissions (see QTax) provides the bulk of government revenue. As a result employment taxes have disappeared except for the very wealthy. It is now relatively cheap to get cleaning, decorating, washing and home repairs done by specialists. See this for how employment patterns will change.

The second shop hires out tools. Many people enjoy gardening, or doing other work at home. This shop stocks many tools and can get hold of specialist tools from a network. This saves the emissions resulting from manufacturing new tools that sit around in people’s garages doing nothing . The shop also provides face to face advice. Customers can collect tools or they can be delivered to their homes from the back of the shop using relatively little energy (see robobike).

The third is a clothing shop. Clothes in 2050 are of the highest quality and tailored to individual needs. Customers can come here, get personal fashion advice, and use the latest technology to see themselves in various fashions before they buy. The clothes are then made at a city 10 miles away and delivered to the shop later in the same week. This system avoids the material waste that comes with cheap mass produced throw away clothing.

The food shop is busy, though most people have food delivered, many eat out, and many use the robo-bikes to deliver it cooked. Food tastes have changed because of personal health monitoring systems, and there is much less waste.  (see waste). There is also much more fresh local produce.

The e-assist shop helps people with their personal e-assistants. These devices make everyday life far easier. Their software is developing very rapidly. This shop helps with problems and carries out updates when required. Update and repair have become relatively low cost compared with buying a complete new device.

The pub at the end is thriving too. People can enjoy a range of local beers. Tonight the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid will attract a full house. Advanced technology will make the experience  compelling. The crowd noise will be awesome, the camera angles stunning, the shared experience unforgettable. Many will also have a meal. Low employment taxes mean that the cost of beer and food is relatively low. Sharing the video experience is more enjoyable than watching alone at home, and avoids the need to manufacture individual entertainment systems.

The cars in the street are driverless electric taxis. They are recharging from loops buried in the road. Shoppers will use their phones to say when they want to go home and the system will tell them which taxi to take. Shared journeys will be normal, though a rapid individual transport option will be available at extra cost. Energy requirements for transport will be less than 25% of current levels. People with disabilities will have a better life, given independence and safety by these new vehicles.

The street does not need parking space for personal cars, though they remain an option and many people keep old cars for use on special occasions. For normal life cars are seen as a nuisance, always needing recharge, hard to park, and costly because they are underused assets with a significant carbon input required to build them. Another benefit is that accident rates in 2050 will be very low because driverless taxis are safer than human drivers.

The electric taxis generally carry multiple passengers so that there are fewer vehicles on the road. They travel steadily, their computers rarely making driver errors. This means that the roads are safe for cyclists. Those who live on hills simply use electric bikes, requiring a fraction of the energy needed by a car.

The street thrives because money is not being wasted on energy. There is no great flow of money out of the local economy to fossil fuel companies. Everyone can earn a decent living because they have access to great education through the internet and because technology permits a better work-life balance, especially for women. People therefore have money to spend on the High Street.

Compared with 2014, this street:

  1. Allows everyone to continue their lives, generally with some improvements.
  2. Uses less than half, perhaps only 25% of the current energy input. This is important because without action world energy requirements will fourfold over the next hundred years due to population growth and spreading prosperity. This street could hold global energy requirements near current levels, giving us a fighting chance of supplying the world from low carbon energy sources.

Why can’t this happen now? There is no reason at all why some of the reduction in emissions shown here cannot be achieved by 2020. Some of the technology requires development but given intense work it could be available within a few years, so this High Street could in fact be reality by 2030.

Why isn’t it happening? Much of the change depends on the tax regime. World governments seem totally unable to grasp the importance of taxing carbon pollution. Taxation is an effective way to change habits quickly. We must raise the price of those activities that produce carbon emissions, and reduce the price of less polluting options.

International action is needed to ensure tax is fair, and to set levels for taxation of international trade. Countries that take action need to be able to tax imports from highly polluting countries. Without such a tax countries with cheap coal energy will prosper and attract industry from virtuous countries –  a bad outcome. 

Rather than impose a proper cost for carbon pollution, and allowing the market to sort out how to respond, the nations fiddle in the market, imposing whatever solutions politicians find attractive. They make promises to cut emissions, then find some way round them when it becomes politically unpopular. The result is ineffective chaos. Carbon emissions continue to rise.

Nations also seem unable or unwilling to focus research activities into radical technologies such as those highlighted in Sketchfifty. Research money is going into those areas that are profitable now – health, small improvements in efficiency for cars, new ways of extracting fossil fuels, and traditional types of renewable energy. That is because companies understand those areas, whereas genuinely new technologies involve high risks and long development times. We need the most intensive research into any technologies that could possible make a major contribution, so that these options are available to our successors. They include desert solar power, nuclear power, robo-bikes, and new transport technologies such as SWIFT and bus-trains

We also need non-technical research into how to make systems like the QTax work, and to define the best approach and how to implement it. Any change will be unfair to some people so tax changes need to be carefully designed and explained.

What can you do to make the required changes? If you live in a democracy, get in touch with those who represent you. At present they think you care more about other things. It was probably just the same in 1914.

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Will Robot Bikes bring home the bacon?

The robot bikes arrive!
The robot bikes arrive!

This post looks at the rather crazy sounding idea of robot bikes, with no rider. They are however technically feasible given the rate of advance in computing and would have many convenience, cost, and environmental advantages. As usual I’ve tried to liven the technical stuff up with a story.

Chloe has thrown a surprise barbecue. Some friends just called to say that they were in the area and since it is a nice day she suggested a barbecue. She lives in the country, twenty minutes from the nearest butcher. She called the butcher an hour ago and they promised to deliver.

The robot bike has just arrived. She unloads the meat while her partner fires up the barbecue. A second bike arrives with the bread, salad and drinks.

These bikes have no rider and navigate the narrow country lanes at safe speeds. They do not need to go fast because they carry no driver charging time by the hour. They can cope with potholes and if they need to stop they simply put their feet on the ground. They are electrically powered, and because they are so light (the heaviest thing on a bike is normally the rider), they use little energy to get up hills. Their energy consumption is around one tenth of that used by an electric car, which is itself much more energy efficient than a diesel. They are the lowest cost way to deliver goods.

In 2050 they are common. They have transformed some parts of the world, notably Africa, by their ability to deliver drugs, food, and equipment across rough roads using only locally generated solar power to recharge their batteries. There are many cities around the world where the roads are simply too small and crowded for cars and vans, and where these robot bikes  are much easier to accommodate.

Why can’t this happen now? Obviously self-driving cars are becoming available. Robot bikes are a further technical challenge but they can be built. A Chinese company is starting their development and some US companies are looking at them for military applications.

Can Bikes be cool?

This post is about electric bikes. They work by helping with the effort of pedalling. Hills are no longer a problem because little effort is required. They can play a big part in a green future. I apologise for the picture. It seems very hard to draw a bike and rider, and I don’t think I’ve found the best way of colouring it using PAINT.net. Any advice is welcome.

Cycling from the shops
Cycling from the shops

It is 2050. Pete is a young professional who lives at the top of a hill. The local town, including the shops, the railway, and the restaurants are at the bottom. After shopping in the town he loads his beer into the panniers, and cycles easily home up the hill. When he gets home he isn’t even sweating.

He isn’t sweating because the electric bike helped him up the hill, but it didn’t need much energy to do that. The energy used to go uphill depends on the weight of a vehicle. His body, bike and groceries weigh under 100 kg. A car weighs over 10 times as much. His round trip therefore consumed less than a tenth of the energy used by a car, and since that small amount of energy can be easily obtained from carbon free sources his carbon emissions are effectively zero.

Pete knows all this and so do his friends. He cycles because they would look down on him if he didn’t.  It is uncool to emit carbon without good reason.  He loves being seen around on his bike.

Pete also uses the bike because it is quicker. He lives a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the shops. His bike will do that distance in around 5 minutes. A car would do the actual journey a little quicker, but he would have to mess around finding a car parking space and might have to park away from the shops.

Isn’t it cool to bike now? Only with the right gear and with a carbon fibre bike. That sort of thing is fine as recreation but not if you are cycling with a purpose – to go to the shops, to the pub, or the gym. The time required to put the kit on is too great, the kit looks odd in a supermarket, and the  bike is too costly to leave around.

We need to make it cool to just get on a simple bike and go, wearing normal clothes.  The bike needs space to carry stuff. The gear needs to be practical. It shouldn’t be necessary to have a shower when you get home. The coolness needs to attach to the fact that such a journey protects the planet and is less hazardous to others than a car.

There are some other factors to overcome if bike use is to spread, notably fear of traffic. Councils can therefore help. 20 mph limits are bike friendly because cars overtake less often and more slowly. Junctions need to be designed to be safe for bikes. Road layouts need to ensure that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians can exist in harmony.

Most of all maybe we need a publicity campaign. Celebrities need to be seen cycling on ordinary bikes in everyday clothes. Adverts need to show people how to use an everyday bike – how to carry shopping, how to make sure the bike isn’t stolen. Most of all we need people to understand how much carbon is emitted by cars, and that it is socially unacceptable for a healthy person to use a car when there are low energy alternatives.