Aspen’s bike sharing program, WE-cycle, has launched the state’s first off-the-grid, solar power e-charging station for electric bicycles.
In collaboration with Carbondale-based Skyhook Solar and PBSC Urban Solutions, a Montreal-based international bike sharing system, WE-cycle rolled out the pilot program last week.
There are 25 blue e-bikes available to users between WE-cycle’s charging stations at Aspen Valley Hospital and a location in Basalt.
The power for the stations is generated by Skyhook’s bifacial solar panels.
Assembled and tested in Skyhook’s Carbondale plant, the technological adaption to PBSC charging stations has been in research and development for the past nine months.
“It’s been a true international collaboration seeing if there was an opportunity to meet our organizational goals to continue to remain 100% solar powered … and to demonstrate that solar powered e-bike sharing is possible in a true plug-and-play capacity where there is no infrastructure needs and utility hookup,” said Mirte Mallory, executive director of WE-cycle.
Skyhook has been working on solar station technology for electric vehicles and e-bikes for a few years.
PBSC Urban Solutions is the manufacturer and supplier for WE-cycle equipment and software. The company has 700 similar programs around the world, but they are all connected to the grid in some fashion.
Daniel Delano, CEO of Skyhook Solar, would like to change that.
“I think they have a great product,” he said. “Certainly there is the potential that we could collaborate in the future in other locations. It would be the renewable power supply as an alternate to grid connection.”
Aspen and Basalt will serve as a testing ground this summer so operators can gauge how much power can be generated, how the supply holds and other operational issues.
“Hopefully it can be developed on a larger scale both within our system and possibly within others as well,” Mallory said.
WE-cycle piloted a program last year that had six e-bikes in its fleet but it proved to be operationally challenging to pick them up and recharge them in the shop, as well as the fact that they were offline during that time, Mallory said.
So the three organizations banded together and came up with the idea of adapting the PBSC smart station, which charges the WE-cycle e-bikes with a Skyhook solar station.
It’s the first deployment of a solar charging e-bike share program in Colorado and the only model operational in the country, Mallory said.
Delano said it is a big step forward in the industry.
“This combination of innovative products is a huge step in advancing renewable and flexible charging infrastructure in the e-bike share movement,” he said.
The change is in line with WE-cycle’s mission to provide an e-bike sharing program with renewable energy, and therefore reducing its collective carbon footprint while slashing greenhouse gases by getting people out of their cars using alternative modes of transportation.
Mallory said a survey of e-bike riders last year indicated that 23% of respondents used WE-cycle to reduce their carbon footprint and 46% said they would have driven their car without the bike sharing option.
All of the bikes in WE-cycle’s fleet are free for the first 30 minutes and are designed to be used for short commuter trips.
It’s $5 for each additional minute for the blue e-bikes and 50-cents for the regular, silver bikes. The pricing is set up like that to disincentivize people from using the WE-cycle bikes recreationally.
E-bikes can be docked at any of WE-cycle’s 49 stations but can only be recharged at the two e-stations at the Aspen hospital and at the upvalley BRT bus stop in Basalt.
The WE-cycle operations team will redistribute e-bikes so they can charge at the designated e-stations.
However, riders are asked that if convenient, they should ride one of the e-bikes to either AVH or the Basalt e-station so they can be charged for the next user, Mallory said.
People can sign up or renew their membership via WE-cycle’s website, and access the bikes through the Transit app.
Founded in 2013, WE-cycle is able to provide free rides as a result of subsidies made by the city of Aspen, the town of Basalt, the Aspen Business Center Foundation and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency.
The total subsidy for this year is $490,000 and the WE-cycle operating budget is $700,000, according to Mallory.
Without sponsors, local support and buy-in from the community ,WE-cycle’s growth and next pedal stroke into the future of sustainability would not be possible, Mallory said.
“It’s a real testament to the innovation that takes place within this valley and forward thinking concepts and alignment in terms of our sustainability goals in the valley to have a collaboration like this,” she said.