Green Transportation
Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

Solarrolla Inc.: Solar Powered Electric Vehicles

Time has passed and Solarrolla has grown. The utility of solar powered vehicles is becoming apparent.

Since our last blog we have completed our largest vehicle to date.  At 12,000 lbs this 2012 already electric International eStar delivery truck made the perfect platform for a solar powered electric RV.

Route del Sol's eStar

With just two months to build this vehicle and beat the oncoming winter in Alaska, Solarrolla put Joel Gregory Hayes on the Pan American Highway (see @routedelsol on all platforms). Joel's environmentally responsible attitude meshed with the intentions of Solarrolla this summer and Joel is now travelling the Pan Am highway from the Arctic Circle to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina in a fully solar powered RV!  Currently he is in Vancouver, B.C. gearing up for his stateside demonstration.

Joel's project began with buying a 2012 International eStar donor vehicle.  The eStar already possessed an electric drive train and a 80kwhr battery bank.  We added a 40 kwhr secondary battery pack for increased range. We outfitted the vehicle with 7,200 watts of custom framed, flexible solar and dialed it in to pull an actual 5kw continuously on a sunny day.....all day as the 24 by 15 foot array tracks. The vehicle is capable of 200 mile runs driving conservatively with up to 100 miles a day from the sun when spanning out its wings in a stationary position.  While in transit the vehicle collects almost 1800 watts of solar energy. We equipped the vehicle with a Outback Radian 8kw inverter.  Joel's eStar can charge other vehicles, and even send power into the grid…imagine the possibilities. See videos of the entire build and all the magic on our YouTube channel "Solarrolla" or at

The team

It’s a lot of work to integrate solar power into an already dedicated electric vehicle.

Battery management systems tend to not particularly like power from an unknown source entering their kingdom. One way around this is to direct solar power on the EV to a secondary battery pack then transfer that power into the vehicle directly through its charging port.  This way you have a sort of reserve tank that you transfer at your own discretion to solarize your ride and give you more range plus a little back up just in case.

This is how we built Joel's vehicle and this is the way we can solar power any electric vehicle. 

Installing Secondary Battery Pack

Does size matter?  Now that I have actually built a large solar powered vehicle I must say…bigger the better!  More size holds more panels and larger battery packs.  Although weight is an issue, driving slower seems to be more tolerated by other drivers in general. The biggest advantage is that you can bring the comforts of home with you.  RVs have awnings....without these awnings increasing the solar power production, Joel's eStar would be more of a daily driver/grocery getter.

We believe in solar powered vehicles, but we also believe that we as humans could also curb our desire for speed and consumption travelling slower, more efficiently and more consciously paralleling a sustainable path with nature. Solarrolla is truly on the side of tortoise, slow and steady.

If size isn't your thing check out version 2.0 of the Solar Rover Electric Scooter.  With a one hundred watt panel putting in actual 80 watts it charges about 30 miles a day. The vehicle holds 100 miles worth of storage which weighs just 30 lbs!  Two independent 500 watt hub motors power you up any hill and well to your 25 mph top speed legal limit.

Stop in the sun and your miles go up accordingly…..can't stop smiling!!!

Remember the burning man scooter that inspired this!!!??

 Solar Rover 2.0

As we get deeper within our solar powered vehicles we find deeper meanings in what we are really doing.  Simply put, at Solarrolla we are encouraging energy awareness.  From where it come from to how it is distributed and finally where it is important for us all to understand.

We realized we could do this on a tiny level and that motivated us to create a solar cell phone charger.  OK sorry it doesn't have wheels, but it will put 3 watts of power anytime it's in the sun into your 6800mahr double 18650 storage pack…. here we go looking to nature for our power directly.  This process encourages us to also refine our usage, (like turning off unnecessary power robbing apps) to meet in the sustainable middle.

 3 Watt Cell Phone Charger

In October we built a 200 Watt mobile power unit for a local company to run their 3D printers. It has a 200 Watt panel, 2000 watt hour lithium pouch cell battery, AIMS Power 1500 watt 48 VDC Pure Sine Power Inverter and an adjustable tracking actuator. This little unit is perfect to run tools, lights, small equipment, etc. We would like to offer this unit as a way for folks to get their hands wet with solar power systems and to enjoy it without all the complexity and cost of a home system.

Mobile Power Unit

This year has been a big one for us as we formed Solarrolla Inc., built our largest vehicle to date, developed the Solar Rover Scooter, built a mobile power unit and solar cell phone chargers. This winter we are excited to announce that we will be converting and adding solar to a VW Bus for Redfoo, front man of the band LMFAO. Stay tuned for more information. This project will be video documented so be sure to follow and subscribe to us on all platforms @solarrolla to get the latest updates (see links in bio below).

The Solarrolla shop and fleet

Brett Belan is the CEO and head engineer at Solarrolla Inc. located in Ashland, Oregon. The company develops and builds solar powered electric vehicles and mobile charging stations. In 2015 he converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. In 2018 he and his team built a fully solar powered electric RV that is travelling the Pan American Highway. Currently he is developing a solar powered electric scooter called the Solar Rover and working on a commissioned  VW Bus conversion. Find out more at: Follow Solarrolla on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter and read the article in Home Power magazine. Read all of Brett’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Innovations that Will Transform Electric Vehicle Efficiency in the Next Decade

EV efficiency innovations

Electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way in the past 10 years. They've gone from niche to mainstream within the market and on the streets — and it doesn't look like EV sales are slowing down anytime soon. More and more consumers and companies have invested not only in the vehicles themselves, but also in the infrastructure it takes to run them. With advancements in technology, owning an EV is cheaper, easier and more accessible than ever before. 

Over the next 10 years, it's likely that innovations in charging, battery technology and ridesharing will increase and provide new advances for these eco-friendly vehicles. 

More Power Availability and Longer Ranges Make for Easier Driving

In most places in the U.S., it's now easy to access charging for longer-range EVs. In fact, it's possible to drive coast to coast on electric power alone, making "range anxiety" a thing of the past.

The Tesla charging network is a well-known piece of infrastructure in the EV world, but it isn't the only one. GM and Volkswagen are starting to invest in charging networks as well. Increased access to charging means that one of the biggest fears around EVs is one step closer to extinction. 

Advances in technology could also make it easier to charge. BMW announced this May that they would start adding a wireless charging option on their 530e iPerformance PHEV. With this wireless system, you could essentially drive onto a pad and let your car charge through induction. If this technology works as predicted, it could open up copious possibilities and locations for charging, from roads to parking garages.

In fact, some of that is already in the works. The Swedish Transport Administration created a road that could charge an EV while driving, called eRoad Arlanda. This road works through conduction, providing power to the vehicle even while in motion. 

Designs suited better to the needs of an electric drivetrain are also helping to increase the range and efficiency of EVs. With weight reduction and aerodynamic optimization, it’s easier than ever to drive longer ranges. For every 10 percent that drag is reduced by aerodynamics, the car's range can increase by 5 percent.

Lower Costs Lead to Greater Accessibility 

Over time, electric vehicles have become less expensive. There are a few reasons for this. One reason is the simple economics of supply and demand. Competition has brought down the prices of these vehicles, which were once out of the price range of the average car buyer. Options like the Chevrolet Bolt (which has an impressive 238-mile range, longer than the range of the standard Tesla) and the Nissan Leaf have reasonable price tags attached. By now, there are also more pre-owned options on the market. 

Another factor in the drop in EV costs is lower battery costs. Batteries are the most expensive parts of these vehicles, but the prices are being driven down by advances in technology and also by investments by auto manufacturers as they start to make their own batteries. 

Daimler has opened a factory in Europe for self-sufficient battery production, and Tesla's Gigafactory has driven down their battery prices significantly as well. As more and more car brands cut out the middleman on battery production, the prices of the most expensive component will drop. Then, competition will continue to make these cars even more affordable. 

It's a New Era for Cars

Many consumers have come to see the detrimental effect that driving a gasoline-powered car has on the environment. With no tailpipe emissions, an EV doesn't directly contribute the same air pollution that an internal combustion engine would. Because of this, drivers have begun making the switch to electric. 

Others have decided to give up car ownership altogether, opting for ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft rather than owning or leasing a vehicle—and as predicted in a recent Esurance report, this trend will only continue in the future. Because of that, there's been a greater interest in making those services sustainable and cost-effective. Driverless cars are a key to doing this. Many of these driverless cars have been created using an EV as a platform. If ridesharing companies plan to go driverless, there's a good chance that they'll also be going electric in the process.

Then, there's the changing overall opinion on EVs. Many thought their batteries to be unreliable, but they've actually got fewer moving parts that can malfunction, and there's less routine maintenance required. There also used to be an unfounded stereotype that EVs weren't good for performance and had sluggish acceleration. It seems that cars like the BMW i8 and the Tesla Roadster are kicking that stereotype to the curb, as EVs actually have more torque and better acceleration than most internal combustion cars. More and more people are coming to understand how electric cars truly work and seeing the benefits of owning them. 

There's no doubt that EVs have a place on our future roads. As more investments are made in both these vehicles and the clean, sustainable power grids to run them, there's a better chance they can have a huge impact on the environment. As individuals and businesses start to see the advantages of driving on electric, more and more innovations will come with the demand. 

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, electric vehicles and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. You can learn more about Esurance’s car insurance options on their website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Innovations That Will Green Our Future Transportation

Green innovations 1

Over the last 50 years, advancements in transportation have been slow. Automobiles, planes, helicopters and trains move at about the same speeds today as they did in the 1960s. But lately, the transportation industry has entered a new era of innovation — one that doesn’t just update individual aspects of vehicles, but reimagines transport technology from the ground up.

From streamlined aerodynamic designs to super-efficient self-driving cars, here are a few innovations that are expected to help make the future of transportation greener and cleaner.   

Lightening the Load

Reducing a car’s weigh by about 220 pounds could increase its energy efficiency by over 3 percent, therefore lowering greenhouse emissions. That’s why engineers are looking to magnesium — the lightest metal on earth, one that’s easier to come by than steel and aluminum — to make transportation more lightweight.

But the problem with magnesium is that it isn’t as malleable as steel or aluminum. It’s prone to breaking under the conventional extrusion process, which makes it more difficult to use in manufacturing. Mixing magnesium with elements like dysprosium and ytterbium can make it stronger, but the process is very expensive.

Researchers have begun to study magnesium at an atomic level to see which other elements might yield plasticity at lower costs. There have also been successes in a new extrusion method, where magnesium is heated and softened through friction only — without resistance heaters. These breakthroughs could make manufacturing magnesium parts far more cost-effective. Not to mention, the manufacturing process itself may be more eco-friendly.

Another material slated for both cars and airplanes is unidirectional (UD) tape. UD fibers are durable, lightweight and moisture-absorbent, and they are often used in the aerospace and defense industries. UD tape can be quickly molded for aircraft parts and has the ability to withstand extreme temperatures and environmental conditions. Most importantly, it reduces overall vehicle weight, improving energy efficiency. One company, FORTAPE, was able to streamline manufacturing methods to reduce their otherwise expensive price tag. Two of their technologies are being used for aeronautic window frames and automotive door panels, but they are poised to be implemented for many other parts.

Green innovations 2

Improving Aerodynamics

When we think of aerodynamics, we often think of vehicle design but not the medium through which the vehicle travels. In 2013, Elon Musk proposed the hypothetical “hyperloop,” which would transport passengers at hundreds of miles an hour in an airless tube. The absence of air reduces friction and energy usage, reducing what’s currently a 3-hour train ride from D.C. to New York to half an hour.

Since 2013, this scenario has moved from hypothetical to tangible. Many companies are now racing to develop the technology, designing and testing magnetically levitating pods on tracks. Hyperloops could save passengers from weather delays and city congestion. Given the reduction in energy usage, it might be a far greener alternative to airplanes and cars.

Virgin Hyperloop One’s plan, for instance, is to have pods hurtle along an electromagnetic track. Currents running through the tracks will propel the pods forward until they levitate and are driven by magnets. Once the pods are in hover mode, only a little bit of energy would be required to maintain speeds of nearly 700 mph.

Reusing Energy

Currently used in Formula 1 racing, Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) technology could eventually be used in passenger cars, too. It’s a system that transfers braking energy into electrical energy, which can be stored for later use. For instance, the kinetic energy of braking would be converted into electrical power and used to charge lithium ion batteries.

Another patent, created by Dr. Thomas Tso Hei Ma, stores acceleration power as compressed air in a tank and functions as an air-combustion engine combo, which lowers energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Green innovations 3

Driverless Vehicles

Self-driving vehicles present the most significant shift in transportation, particularly when it comes to safety. Over 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error, but self-driving tech will remove the human variable altogether.

Another opportunity for autonomous vehicles is fuel efficiency. Autonomous vehicles will be easier on the pedals than we are. Humans are more prone to hard braking and flooring the accelerator, which contribute to carbon emissions — not to mention driverless vehicles can be programmed to take the most fuel-efficient routes everywhere they go.   

Evidence suggests a strong correlation between gridlocked traffic and carbon emissions. The University of California Transportation Center reports that improving traffic speeds from, say, 34 to 53 mph could lessen greenhouse gases by around 20 metric tons. Because driverless cars travel synchronously and are less likely to brake hard, there’s a fair chance we’ll see a significant reduction in traffic.

Finally, autonomous vehicles will also improve aerodynamics — in this case, commercial trucks driving in a closely-followed platoon to reduce draft. Driverless vehicles will be in constant communication with each other, so rather than a “shockwave” of braking that travels upstream, autonomous vehicles would travel at a closer following distance. A study from MIT predicts that platooning could save fuel costs by upwards of 20 percent.

One caveat for driverless vehicles, however, is that they might increase the number of miles driven on the road. Zero-occupancy cars are a major concern, as is suburban sprawl, since people might be more apt to live farther away from their workplaces. In other words, self-driving vehicles could increase fuel consumption and our eco-footprint without proper oversite. For this reason, there’ve been talks around incentivizing car owners to partake in ride-hailing services to reduce the number of unoccupied vehicles on the road. Think of it this way – if someone else’s unoccupied car will pass your place of work on the way to pick them up, you can simply hop in for the ride instead of driving yourself and adding to the number of cars on the road.

With proper planning, innovations like driverless vehicles and the hyperloop could fundamentally change roadway infrastructure itself — largely designed to account for human error. That means a reduced need for wider lanes, traffic lights, guard rails, medians and even sound walls. Slimming these structures down could make way for pedestrian-oriented spaces rife with vegetation. That’s a major boon for the environment — and by design, a major win for us.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to marketing strategy, product and service innovation, and strategic partnerships. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about where transportation technology is headed and what it means for car insurance.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Sustainable Shipping Solutions in Development Now

Many people know that the shipping industry as a whole has room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. Some eco-minded individuals prefer to buy locally produced things instead of those that require resource-guzzling trucks, boats or planes to get to their destinations. However, entities in the shipping sector have committed to making positive changes in sustainability. Some maritime-based projects underway at the moment seem particularly promising.

The Water-Go-Round Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry

Although ferries emit relatively fewer emissions than other maritime vehicles, they usually operate in highly populated areas, making those emissions more adversely impactful on human health. However, a California-based project wants to make a ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells called the Water-Go-Round.

Construction should start this fall, with the ferry making its first trips about a year later. It’ll carry up to 84 passengers and be 70 feet long. Instead of producing dangerous pollutants like other ferries, the Water-Go-Round only makes heat and water vapor.

This project could be one that encourages the shipping industry to make these kinds of ferries, too. Passenger ferries don’t use as much fuel or power as other kinds of vessels that travel on the ocean, so they often serve as testing grounds for technology that eventually makes its way to the shipping industry.

It’s also helpful that the International Maritime Organization created a deal to make ships less contributory to the greenhouse gas problem the planet faces. The Water-Go-Round might indicate a path to progress.

Reusable Product Mailers

The rise in popularity of online shipping means people are accustomed to seeing cardboard boxes and plastic bubble mailers arrive on their doorsteps, filled with products they ordered only days earlier. Statistics indicate that people don’t only care about the items inside, but that 32 percent of Americans also want sustainable packaging.

Even when companies use recycled boxes and plastic envelopes, they still may end up in landfills because local recycling centers in communities have become overwhelmed by the number of items coming into the facilities. However, a company called LimeLoop wants to change that with plastic mailers that can be reused up to 2,000 times. They have zippers on one side, making them easy to open. Also, the mailers are created from upcycled vinyl billboards.

When one of these envelopes arrives at a customer’s doorstep, the person takes the product out, then attaches an included return shipping label to the outside of the mailer. From that point, they can put the mailer in any mailbox, and it’ll go back to the originating company’s distribution center.

LimeLoop mailers are being tested in a pilot program that’s allowing the manufacturer to collect data about how to make them better before they get produced for a widespread rollout. According to the company, if people replaced traditional shipping options with LimeLoop mailers, they could save up to a billion trees annually.

The potential for these mailers spans far beyond the maritime industry. However, if companies that used these mailers also decided to send them to destinations by way of improved maritime vessels, they could significantly increase their overall impact.

An Agreement Supporting Green Investments in the European Shipping Market

There are indeed numerous challenges that make sustainable shipping practices difficult to implement quickly. However, a €300 million agreement between ING and the European Investment Bank will support green shipping initiatives throughout Europe, potentially alleviating many of the financial- related barriers that make adoption of eco-friendly practices particularly tricky.

The investment focus is on the maritime sector, and funding recipients will use the money to retrofit existing vessels to make them more eco-friendly or purchase new ships that meet environmental sustainability requirements.

A Ship That Runs on Liquefied Natural Gas

The Forward Maritime Group recently won the Most Sustainable Project Award at a summit in Denmark for an initiative leading to shipping vessels powered by liquefied natural gas. The prototype emits up to 35 percent less CO2 than traditional ships. Representatives from Forward Maritime Group signed a letter of intent with Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, and the latter company will produce up to 20 ships in the new design.

An Autonomous Container Ship

A vessel called the Yara Birkeland could become the first zero-emission, autonomous container ship in the world. It’s the result of a Norwegian project that wants to transfer container shipments off the roads and into the oceans. This battery-powered ship could eliminate 40,000 diesel truck journeys each year.

Yara is a company that currently relies on up to 100 diesel trucks daily to transport products between its plants to prepare them for global shipments. If this project is successful, it could reduce dependence on those trucks, as well as the personnel needed to drive them.

Sea-Based Shipments Are Set for Better Sustainability

Shipping industry professionals know their sector isn’t among the most sustainable. However, with these projects and investments, those with the power to make progress are putting their funds and innovative ideas to use in ways that could forever change how products get shipped around the world via the water.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Next Level of Carpooling

carpooling image 1

The idea of “access vs. ownership” has recently become a major trend that impacts consumer models across categories. According to marketing strategists, Gen Y, Gen Z and even some Gen X consumers are foregoing the American consumerism model in favor of “access” or “partial access” models. In other words, they’re reducing the things they own in favor of experiences like travel. 

Nowhere is this dynamic more impactful than in the future of car ownership. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are already changing traditional transportation paradigms around the world, and fractional or access-based solutions like GetAround and Turo are changing the nature vehicle ownership and car access. This trend will accelerate as driverless vehicles shift from car ownership to a ride-hailing model. Absorbing the upfront purchase costs and ongoing maintenance of a car you only drive five percent of the time loses appeal in an environment where door-to-door service is available in the palm of your hand. Recent research from Esurance estimates that families could save $4,146 annually just by using fleet-owned autonomous vehicles instead of owning their own cars.

The shifting consumer trends, combined with the technological innovations, are turning heads in America’s biggest industries. Auto behemoths Ford and General Motors are already tapping the ridesharing space as part of their self-driving initiatives, and Google’s Waymo plans to roll out their robo-taxi service in Phoenix later this year.

While traditional car ownership won’t immediately go away, the trend toward fleet-owned, self-driving cars will only continue to increase. Your two-car family in the ’burbs may opt for one car, say, and urban one-car homes may get rid of them altogether.

This is a boon for your wallet and a win for the environment — and our wellbeing. On top of saving time, fuel, insurance premiums and high blood pressure (fewer cars means less traffic), here are some of the ways the future of ride-hailing can help shrink our eco-footprint.  

More Pedestrian-Friendly Spaces

The greatest promise for driverless cars is removing human error, which accounts for roughly 94 percent of auto accidents. Roadway infrastructure has long been designed to address this trend, engineering roads and highways to account for human behavior and safety at the lowest common denominator. Hence, wide enough lanes, rumble strips, medians and guardrails — plus street signs, highway signs, traffic lights and sound buffers are all elements of transportation that will be relegated to the past. 

Remove human error from the mix, and these buffers are no longer needed. Highways can be streamlined with narrower roads unobstructed by guardrails, medians and traffic lights, and all that space can be repurposed as parks and bike lanes.

But the most significant change of all: removing parking structures. The cars' ability to park themselves outside of dense areas may be most impactful. Again, freed-up space could be restored to pedestrian infill (like parks, walkways and trees) or even affordable housing. What were once city blocks choked by concrete could be transformed into tree-lined boulevards.

Think about it this way: L.A. County’s parking infrastructure uses up 14 percent of the city’s space. Imagine if all that space were suddenly relinquished for reuse.

Reduced Emissions

A RethinkX study found that, in a fully-autonomous world, “each car will be used at least 10 times more than individually owned cars,” which means far fewer vehicles will be required for a fleet.  And fewer vehicles mean reduced pollution. According to a 2017 study by University of California, Davis, if self-driving cars are electric and shared, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by a whopping 80 percent by 2050.

Will Our Eco-Footprint Get Worse Before it Gets Better?

There’s a glaring caveat, however. That same UC Davis study points out that if carpooling doesn’t take off as expected, greenhouse gases could go up in the meantime.  The main concern is that driverless cars could increase our tolerance for distance traveled, which significantly increases pollution. If people are willing to travel further away, then housing developments may flourish in remote areas. That’s a win for affordable housing, but a loss for our eco-footprint.

Also troubling is the possibility of “zombie” cars on the road — that is, cars driving without passengers, doing things like picking up groceries and running errands. And unless a pricing system is in place which accounts for negative externalities (like carbon taxes or other fuel consumption charges), passengers may not be inclined to travel with others or rideshare.  

Chip manufacturers are aware of this issue. Nvidia, just announced an artificial intelligence chip that they say “crams $10,000 worth of power into a tiny box that costs just $1,299.” What would otherwise need 1,000 watts to run trillions of operations now only uses 30 watts, and the brightest minds in the world are already working on new technology to get to “reversible” or “zero-energy” computing.

Like all innovations, there are side effects – both positive and negative.

For example, we’ve seen tremendous benefits from the automobile, as well as its unintended side effects. Cars have made traveling remarkably convenient, but they also spurred urban sprawl and caused pollution.

But nonetheless, fewer people have been getting their drivers licenses since 1983. One of the main the reasons for this is — you guessed it — the cost of owning and maintaining a car when you can easily get rides from others. It’s not difficult to fathom how self-driving cars can spur that trend exponentially. To get there, however, we need proper oversight, and the onus is ultimately on us as consumers to make smart choices for ourselves and our planet.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, blockchain, telematics, and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. He draws on years of experience to write about the future of the car insurance industry, from new driving habits to autonomous vehicles. You can learn more about Esurance’s auto insurance options on their website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

New York City Bans Cars in Central Park

central parkAs one of the most visited outdoor spaces in the United States, Central Park is one of the most famous landmarks of New York City. Every year, 40 million people visit the park for its charm and history. The park was originally established in 1857, but did not become popular until it was redesigned at the start of the 20th century.

During this redesign, led by Robert Moses, several roadways were added inside of the park, which helped to popularize the park for Manhattan residents, and made for a shortcut cross the park for drivers and pedestrians alike.

However, beginning June 27 of this year, privately owned automobiles will not be permitted to drive through the roads of Central Park. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio previously banned private automobiles from driving through the northern end of the park in 2015, this new ban will prevent vehicles anywhere in the entire park.

“Our parks are for people, not cars,” de Blasio told the press. “For more than a century, cars have turned parts of the world’s most iconic park into a highway. Today we take it back. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of the millions of parents, children, and visitors who flock to Central Park.”

This ban will not apply to emergency vehicles, nor will it have any impact on vehicles using the four below-grade crosstown routes that were part of its original design.

This has not been the only case of cities restricting cars from urban parks in recent years. Cities such as London, Paris, and several cities in Germany have cracked down on private vehicle access to urban parks, putting time and car-size restrictions in place. Even the efforts to remove cars from Central Park has been underway for over 5 decades, slowly adding more and more restrictions over the years that have led to this complete ban.

The reactions of New Yorkers to this ban have been mixed. Many believe that this new ban will make the park safer and more enjoyable for children and families, while many – particularly cab and Uber drivers – believe that this will hurt their profits. Those who are happy about this change are excited that New York City is taking steps to become a cleaner, healthier, and environmentally friendly city.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Green? Exploring the Environmental Impacts

Vehicles Sensors STreet Curb

Photo by Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

It’s no secret that cars are one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas-driven climate change. Given that fact, in the past five years, there’s been a significant push from automakers to make cars more efficient. But during that same time period, there’ve also huge advances made in semi-autonomous and autonomous tech.

This technology gives us a taste of what will come in the future. But while these innovations bring with them substantial safety improvements, how much impact will they have on the amount of energy consumed by cars?

This question is now being studied in earnest. The list of companies who are chasing self-driving dreams has grown from the famous Google SUVs just five years ago. But with many local governments beginning to implement regulations around self-driving cars, car manufacturers few places to test them on real roads.

And until more “real-life” tests can be performed, it will be difficult to gauge how much impact — if any — self-driving cars will have on the environment. However, thanks to several states introducing legislation friendly to self-driving cars, new studies are looking to answer just that.

What Makes a Car Self-Driving?

Self-driving cars (or fully autonomous cars) are more than just vehicles that can keep themselves in a lane or stop with traffic. This technology (known as semi-autonomous) already exists today – Tesla's AutoPilot and Honda Sensing, for example. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) considers this "Partial Automation."

The next phase is "Conditional Automation," where a driver needs to be in the car, but the car does most of the driving on its own. The final phase is "Full Automation," in which vehicles are completely self-driving. No driver presence is required, and the vehicle manages all driving functions.

Future of Mobility Illustration

Photo by BreezyInt/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Environment

When considering the way self-driving cars will impact the environment, we have to first look at the way they will change driving. The NHTSA estimates that Americans spent almost 7 billion hours stuck in traffic during 2014, a number which has likely only increased.

Self-driving cars use connected technology to manage traffic congestion, reducing or eliminating the time we spend idling in gridlock. The NHTSA also reports that 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. In addition to saving lives, self-driving cars could reduce the waste byproduct these collisions send to landfills.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are several other ways self-driving vehicles could impact the environment.

  • Because self-driving cars tend to crash less, vehicles can become much lighter as some older safety technology is removed, potentially reducing energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.
  • They last longer, decreasing the environmental impact of producing a new car.
  • NREL estimates a 12 to 20 percent decrease in vehicle use thanks to increased occupancy.
  • Self-driving cars are capable of driving much more efficiently than human drivers, which could result in a 10 to 25 percent reduction in energy use (again, according to the NREL).

However, the NREL report also raises some concerns about potential negative environmental impacts. Self-driving cars make it possible for older generations and people with prohibitive disabilities to drive. While improved mobility will open opportunities for these groups, it will also mean more people — and vehicles — will be on the roadways.

Self-driving cars might also mean that people will drive more often and for longer periods of time. Combining these factors could cause a 50 percent increase in usage as well as a significant increase in energy consumption. Highly efficient routing and highway driving will likely increase the average speed at which vehicles travel. Over 50 mph, drag forces on a vehicle cause it to burn more fuel, and the faster the speed, the more energy is used.

Self Driving Semi Illustration

Photo by Chesky/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Texas Helps Lead the Way with Green Autonomous Vehicles

In 2017, Texas was one of 10 states chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation to be designated a national Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground, allowing researchers and manufacturers an open place to test self-driving vehicles.

This is a big deal because it gives researchers and innovators alike a chance to review impacts automation may have on the environment. In Texas, several universities and organizations have formed a partnership with a focus on studying and proving these effects.

There are already real-world results coming out of these proving grounds. In July 2016, TTI — along with federal and state transportation authorities — released the results of tests with self-driving tech and truck platooning. Using a partially autonomous truck, they were able to determine that this method of transportation reduced fuel consumption by 12 percent.

How, you ask? By maximizing the drafting effect, fuel consumption is lowered. This results in fewer carbon emissions and reduced operating costs. With a highly efficient, fully self-driving truck, truck platooning could have big impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption in the long run.

In addition to Texas, nine other locations across the United States were chosen for testing. A proving ground in Pittsburg is being used by companies like Uber. In Michigan, the home of the automobile in North America, a 335-acre proving ground was built to explore and certify self-driving vehicles. There are additional proving grounds in Wisconsin, California, Iowa and Central Florida. Plus, there's a proving ground located at the U.S. Army Aberdeen base with a focus on self-driving military technology.

These spaces provide a varied environment for researchers to study the ways self-driving cars will change the industry and become more environmentally-friendly. Many of the proving grounds are still in their infancy, with testing only just beginning.

Ultimately, the effects may only be clear once self-driving cars become more common and theories like platooning are tested on real streets and highways. Until then, the results of testing at U.S. proving grounds — and others like them around the world — will give us a glimpse at how self-driving cars will impact the environment.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the director of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to product and service innovation. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how technology — including autonomous cars — will impact the insurance industry. He is also a mobile guru, aspiring yogi and mixed martial artist. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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