The Pros and Cons of Tindo the Solar-Powered Bus
This past year the Australians raised the bar in sustainability for the rest of the world by introducing the world's first 100% solar-powered bus. They named it Tindo, the local Aboriginal word for 'sun.' This innovative technology can be found in Adelaide, Australia, a leader in utilizing green technology. I say utilizing here, because other countries have the capability (*cough* USA *cough*) they just don't use it. Does Tindo have solar panels on the top of it that it uses to power up and pick up wandering passengers? That would be cool, but no. Tindo is not powered like that, and from a technology standpoint, we haven't quite reached that point yet. However, a photovoltaic system, located at Adelaide central bus system, harnesses the sun's energy which is then converted to electrical energy that powers the bus. It's like a hybrid, you plug the bus in and its batteries are charged using the energy from the solar panels. The amount of energy stored in the bus is limited, just like a hybrid, but then again, a vehicle can only hold so much gas as well.
Is Tindo cool? Yes, Tindo is very cool. I might also add that it is free public transportation. Why don't we have that here either? But why is Tindo the solar powered bus so cool, and what might be the downside to this mode of transportation for other parts of the world?
Why Tindo is a Very Good Thing
The main reason why Tindo is a very good thing, is because it has no CO2 emissions. I won't go into details, but scientists believe that the Earth is warming up at unprecedented levels, in a way they have never seen before in history. Carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions are believed to be the major culprit in this phenomenon, as well as other factors. It's called Global Warming. Global warming can cause an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. An increase of temperature of the oceans is killing off coral and other marine species. The polar ice caps are melting, which is not only endangering polar pears and other arctic wildlife, but is also causing an increase in sea level which could drown NYC and make entire islands disappear under water. I could go on, but I won't. It's not the main reason for this blog post. I am not trying to convince you that Global Warming exists, but whether or not you believe in it, humans are negatively impacting this Earth, which may set off a devastating chain reaction that we won't be able to reverse. Reducing CO2 emissions, is always a good thing.
Burning fuel or coal releases more than just CO2 into the air, it also produces many other chemicals that negatively impact the environment. Burning coal releases sulfur into the air, which produces acid rain. Acid rain is currently turning lakes in the Appalachian acidic, to the point where they can no longer sustain life. It is also destroying plant life and turning the soil acidic. The burning of fuel in cars also releases nitrous oxide. Ever had to deal with LA smog? You can thank nitrous oxide for that. Tindo releases none of those toxins into the air, but any other vehicle, even hybrids, do.
Solar energy is also renewable. The sun will probably explode one day or turn into a dwarf, but I think we have a few million years before that happens. In the meantime, gasoline is not reusable. Once you burn it, there is no getting it back. There is a limited supply of oil on this Earth and some estimates say it could all be gone within the next 50-60 years. That is within my lifetime and maybe yours too. We could live to see the end of the age of oil. Plus if America is no longer dependent on oil, then we are no longer at the mercy of other countries to acquire it, because every country has sun.
But the best part about Tindo is that it is free public transportation. I used to live in Philadelphia. The public transportation there sucks. The subway system, quite frankly, scared me, and it only went in two directions. The buses were unreliable, predictably never on schedule and sometimes I had to take 2 or 3 and then walk, just to get to where I wanted to be. It's cheaper than a cab, but it's not that cheap. It is not always easy to get to your destination in a timely manner without taking a cab or driving yourself. If cities had better, more reliable, public transportation systems (that were also free), like Tindo, solar-powered or not, we could reduce the amount of energy used and the amount of cars used in a day if more people simply used public transportation.
Why Tindo Might Not Work Everywhere
Notice the topic is 'why it might not work' and not why is it a bad thing. In this case, there really isn't all that much negative to say. However, this type of transportation might not work everywhere in the world.
The two main reasons why Tindo wouldn't work everywhere is:
- Available Sunlight
- The Cost
Let's look into that in more detail. Reason number one: available sunlight. Not every place in the world is as sunny as Australia. Ever spent a winter in Northeastern part of the United States, or Canada, or worse Alaska? There's not a whole lot of sun during the cold, merciless winter months. I'm pretty sure I've gone weeks without really seeing the sun (behind layers and layers of clouds doesn't count). We may get enough to power one solar powered bus, but certainly not a fleet. Each bus would need to have a supplemental form of energy, like coal or diesel, or wind power. With our current technology, we are unable to send solar power over long distances like we can with coal or hydro-power.If we could send power from the deserts of southwestern USA to the rest of the country, we would be set for life, but presently it is impossible (that's not to say we won't have the technology in the future). A solar powered transportation system, therefore, may be effective in say California, Florida, or Texas, but here in NY, or even Philadelphia, and definitely Seattle or Juno, we would be shit out of luck.
Reason number two is the price. Is it cost effect? I can't answer that question with the data I presently have. What I do know is that converting solar power to usable forms of energy is not cheap. Everything that runs on electricity that we use, all of our electronics, the lights in your home, this laptop I'm writing on, they all run on alternating current (AC). Whatever is coming through the plug in your house is AC and what runs along the power line in the picture above is AC. However solar power energy gives us DC or direct current. Converting DC to AC is not that expensive, but it's also not that cheap, i.e. it's expensive enough that most people don't want to do it, especially when the price of gas is currently a cheaper method than conversion. We simply don't have the technology to turn solar power directly into alternating current (I'm not even sure if it is possible).
Solar panels are expensive as well. The materials to make them are expensive, the method to make them is expensive and they are currently not widely massed produced which also increases the price. With more research, new materials and methods are being discovered which will eventually decrease the price of solar panels, but not at the present moment. Solar panels are also extremely inefficient. The best solar panel in the world can only hope to achieve 30% efficiency and even that is an overestimate (or more like wishful thinking). With the way the economy is going, places like Detroit, which recently declared bankruptcy, simply don't have the money for this kind of thing. And Washington, D.C., aside from a few forward thinking presidents like JFK, has never really cared about funding research in green technology nor have they ever really attempted to try to enforce greener laws like most European countries have.