In what sounds more like a showdown at a 6th grade science fair, two Bay Area companies are claiming naming rights to Faraday; a maker of electric bikes, and a maker of electric vehicles. Who can blame them? Apparently, Albert Einstein had a picture of Faraday on his wall. With the transport sector responsible for 27% of U.S. emissions, decarbonizing transport is critical to combating climate change. So who is the more worthy bearer of the Faraday name? Is our decarbonized future EVs or e-bikes?
Which is better for the individual?
I think we should first acknowledge that riding an electric bike no longer requires you to be seen on something like this:
Instead, you can have a rather beautiful piece of design, like this:
And you’re getting incidental exercise while you’re at it. Also, in a bike-friendly city like San Francisco, it’s actually often faster to commute by bike or e-bike than commuting by car or bus. When you arrive, you can usually park right out the front (although I would be little hesitant to park my $2,500 beauty on the street for too long).
Most of us are not yet ready to go cold turkey on cars. E-bikes have accelerated the growth in cargo bikes and it’s now quite possible to transport a couple of kids or a serious amount of cargo on the back of your bike without having thighs of steel. Even so, there are times when having a car makes things so much easier: when it’s raining; if you’re not able-bodied or are unwell; you need to travel longer distances; or if you run out of laundry detergent, tinned tomatoes, milk, and all the heaviest grocery items all at once. For better or worse, we’re all still pretty hooked on cars. In fact, the number of cars on the road is set to double by 2030, so it’s important to have a more responsible alternative to fossil fuel-powered combustion engines.
Which is better for the community?
There is something undeniably sociable about riding a bike. Without the metal barriers, people feel more willing to chat at traffic lights. On my daily bike commute, I’ve experienced compliments and inquiries about my outfit, chatted with friends who I’ve run into, and even made a new friend I met in the bike lane. It’s not always kumbaya on two wheels, but people are more likely to treat each other like humans.
A much-quoted study from 2012 showed that bike commuters are more likely to shop locally and spend time in their neighborhood. It’s also a no-brainer that fewer cars on the roads eases traffic congestion and parking woes. I’m pretty confident that bike-riders call their moms regularly and floss more often too.
Which is better for the environment?
Does the moral high ground belong to the EV driver or the e-bike rider? On first glance, it might seem like the e-bike rider wins hands down here, but EV drivers can actually make a pretty good case that they’re driving systemic change to our energy supply.
Electrifying everything from scooters to trucks to boats to industry, is all well and good, but if the electricity is coming from a coal-fired power plant, it feels like a bit of a hollow victory. And yet, this is where I think things get really exciting. This year, the cost of EV batteries was lower than the IAEA’s 2013 prediction for battery costs in 2020. With the opening of Tesla’s gigafactory planned for 2017, it’s estimated that this will cut battery costs by a further 30%.
The plummeting cost of batteries not only helps to drive EV’s competitiveness, it also has flow-on effects for the cost of batteries for household and utility use. Householders can use storage to maximize their usage of solar electricity by storing the energy from the middle of the day while they’re at work so that it’s available for use when they get home in the dark (and, you know, want to plug in their EVs). Utilities use storage to even out the demand fluctuations so that they don’t need to build more power plants or use gas fired power plants to meet peak demand. And all of this means that we’re able to use more and more solar and other renewables on the grid, rather than burning fossil fuels. It really is an extraordinarily virtuous circle.
And the winner?
Is it too much of a cop-out to say we’re all winners? They’re not quite jet packs or spaceships, but the vision of all these electric things whizzing around at least feels a little bit more like the future that the Jetsons promised us. As far as I can see, the more Faraday namesakes we have, the better.