“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yet another look at alternative transport

At the risk of redundancy, I'll point out yet again that one of my most common internet haunts is the ecomodder web site. It's a fantastic place for knowledgeable discussion, news, and ideas regarding nearly anything connected with minimizing energy consumption (usual disclaimer, it should be energy conversion since energy isn't consumed). Today, there was a forum post about a new electric motorcycle.

I've posted before about alternative personal transportation, and most recently concluded that, for me at this time, it's impractical. Can this new development change my calculus?

The "Electric GPR" is apparently not yet available, however, one can be ordered at a retail price of $8,000. This is about 2.3 times the most recent cost of the Zapino I evaluated in my previous post. The aspect of the Electric GPR that makes it worth a look is its status as a street legal motorcycle and, at least as claimed by Electric Motorsport, freeway capable. Should it be actually so, I could anticipate a commute time approximately the same as the one I suffer in my Land Rover LR3 HSE. Readers may recall that one of the key negative factors in my evaluation of the Zapino was that it would have to be ridden on surface streets and thus would add dramatically to my commute time.

As to specifics, the Electric GPR utilizes a lithium ion battery with a capacity of 3.3 kilowatt hours (11,880,000 joules - the amount of energy available in a little under a tenth of a gallon of gasoline). It powers a 50 volt Etek RT motor apparently manufactured by Briggs & Stratton. It's advertised as having a range of 35 miles in "power mode" and 60 miles in "economy mode." Obviously, since my freeway commute is a little over 30 miles, economy mode would be the ticket. I'm not able to determine whether economy mode means no freeway riding at 55 m.p.h.; if so, it's obviously disqualifying.

Suppose that it's capable of commuting from my office and climbing the final (steep and long) hill to my house. Do I want to be on a California freeway in the far right lane at 55 m.p.h. on a 285 pound motorcycle that makes no noise? I have a very limited history with riding and no one would imagine that I'm an expert, so there would appear to be a very strong element of danger. Can extreme caution make this a controllable risk? I don't know.

What about the economics? It's not so easy to estimate this, what with the extreme volatility of gasoline prices. This is obviously the largest factor in determining the return on investment in such an asset. Do I use $4.959 (or higher) as I paid in June, 2008 or $1.939 as I paid at my most recent fill up? I'm going to use $3.00. My personal belief is that, in the period of the next couple of years, that number will underestimate the average cost of gasoline and therefore my calculations will be conservative (in the engineering sense).

I would imagine that I'll use about 2.8 kilowatt hours of energy for a 32 mile trip. In order to replenish the battery, I'll have to use 3.3 kilowatt hours of electricity (assuming the charging system is 85% efficient). This will cost me about (because of the tiered system of electricity billing, I have to assume the worst case) $0.4330 for a cost per mile of $0.0135. The LR3 at $3.00/gallon would cost about $0.146/mile or a little over 10 times as much. Assuming I'd be able to use the motorcycle 180 days per year at 62 miles per day, I'd save about $4,600 per year.

The LR3 is under warranty and thus maintenance costs are currently nil, so any maintenance or replacement reserve for the Electric GPR would be a pure cost with no offset. Since the warranty is only one year (!) I suspect that maintenance would not be negligible. But let's make a pessimistic assumption that it would cost $1,000/year. That would mean that it would take something on the order of two years and three months to pay for itself. This is a very simplistic way of looking at return on investment but it certainly indicates that, from a purely economic point of view, the purchase decision should be positive.

The thought of being obligated to ride a light motorcycle on California freeways to make an investment pay off is daunting, however, and I think that will turn out to be the determining factor.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


King of the Road said...

Thank you for taking the time to read and to comment. I'd certainly welcome any other comments you'd care to make on past or future posts.