Can you solar power an electric cargo bike?

Here at Cycle Sprog we love sharing inspiring stories, and today is no different!

The following blog shared to us by Alex BB (who you can also hear hosting the Family Cycling Podcast), explains how, as a family of four, they've taken their cargo bikes 'off grid' as they are powered by the solar panels on their roof.

Solar panels contain solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity, therefore allowing Alex's family cargo bikes to be powered and used everyday.

In the last few days we have just had an onsite solar system installed at our house.

Our system is fitted to a standard UK ex-council house. It is typical of about 80% of the UK housing stock.

We don’t own a car but we do have access to Enterprise car rental, Enterprise Carclub and a few local van rental options.

However, the vast majority of our trips are done by bike, as are the majority of our miles.

Our cargo bike is a Gazelle Cabby. 7,500 miles and 4 years ago I retrofitted a Baffang motor system to it with a 0.5kWh motor (500 Watts in e-bike speak).

I took the time to do a few calculations and here are the takeaways:

The first takeaway is: I think it is now completely legitimate to say that our primary mode of transport is 100% powered by Solar energy.

That is not an accounting trick, I can actually see where the electricity was produced. On the top of my house!

Based on when we charge the bike, even on days when we haven’t met all our energy needs from our solar, I’m pretty sure all the electrons that make their way into the bike's battery were put there by the sun hitting our house. Which is really cool.

I was interested in how this compared to an electric car.

Cargo bike powered by solar panels
A cargo bike which is powered by solar panels

In short, if we got an electric car and assumed that our mileage went from on average 9 bike miles per day to the UK car average of 20 miles per day, our energy use for day-to-day transport would increase 100 fold.

Our household energy would almost double. (additional 76%).

The total amount of batteries, household and onboard the vehicle would increase by a factor of 10, and the amount of money we are spending on cars would increase between 2 and 4 times. We would also probably have to pinch a bit of roof from our adjoining neighbour!

I'd also like to point out that the solar array behind me in the photo is eight times what you need to charge the bike.

That system even in the middle of winter would charge my bike's battery for the whole week in about 1 hr.

I’m sharing this information because I want people to know that if you can replace your car with a cargo bike you are reducing the emissions by 99% already, and saving a load of upfront cost!

But I also think there is something psychologically really satisfying about knowing a mode of daily transport is completely* powered by renewables. [*and a bit of body fat].

While it is hypothetically possible to generate enough Solar energy to meet the daily needs of the average car in the UK, I know for a fact that our typical system would not be able to do that today in the middle of winter.

But practical, urban, Solar powered transport is totally possible with off the shelf products you can install in your home and plug into regular wall sockets. Today.

My household only got to this point after years of tinkering and some luck. We’ve been using cargo bike since 2012.

At the time I fitted a motor to ours, there really weren’t that many electric versions on the market, and we are very lucky to be in a position to be able to do the solar on the house, so I know this stuff isn’t ‘easy’, but its also not that hard.

Budget or financing allowing, you could do this tomorrow. The path has already been laid; we just need to direct people to it.

solar panels powering a cargo bike

These are the guys that did our solar:

These are the guys that installed our system. There is probably someone local to you.
This is the solar system we have. Our batteries are called Pylontech

Pick any electric cargo bike one sale in the uk and there you have it.

Your own moon buggy. Totally powered by the sun. A perpetual motion machine for your family.


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