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Monday, June 30, 2008

Exciting - and green - ways to get around

The Kero electric scooter is a popular choice.

The Kero electric scooter is a popular choice.

Whether you're aiming to reduce your carbon footprint, save some money on petrol or just beat the traffic blues, there are some cheap, green and exciting ways of getting around that can replace your motor car.

Most journeys are only a few kilometres long and often with no passengers, so it makes sense to look beyond the car as the smartest way to cross the city. Of course there's the bicycle, or even public transport, but other options are worth considering.

ELECTRIC SKATEBOARD

Your skateboarding days may be long gone but these are becoming a viable option for getting from A to B then C.

They can reach up to 26km/h, a decent cycling pace, and the average battery life lasts for about 22km.

If you combine a skateboard with some public transport you have a low-cost, carbon-friendly way of getting around, not to mention convenient.

Some models even come with ABS braking and a special sensor to engage the brakes if the rider leaves the board.

Control is by a foot pedal or a hand-held remote control. Several models are powerful enough to get up steep hills. Prices range from $500 to $900 and off-road wheels are available if you want to leave the pavement.

ELECTRIC SCOOTER

Several companies are importing electric scooters for sale in New Zealand. The Kero is a popular brand and, depending on the model, you can get up to 90km on one charge (less if there are lots of hills or if you are carrying a passenger). Most models can be operated by holding a car licence and are similar to petrol- powered scooters. But you will need to get in the habit of charging it each night. Electric vehicles are quiet so you will need to be aware of pedestrians stepping out without looking.

ELECTRIC CAR

The electric car became established in California during the late 1990s in response to legislation requiring car manufacturers to produce alternative-fuelled cars. The customers loved them but when the law was relaxed, the car companies recalled the vehicles and despite many protests sent them to the crusher.

There are not yet any commercially available electric cars in New Zealand but that hasn't stopped several ingenious Kiwis making their own. One such enterprising motorist lives in New Plymouth. He has successfully converted an old Mitsubishi Tredia to run on electricity. It is totally road-legal and he has done the work himself on a tight budget.

If you'd like something a little more stylish than a Tredia, then a Tesla will be hard to beat. Available only in the United States or Europe, this electric car rockets to 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds. It runs for 1.5c a km and has a range of 350km per charge. Lotus Cars is assembling the Tesla Roadster under contract to Tesla Motors, so although it is an American car it is being assembled in the UK.

With Jay Leno, George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger all reportedly on the waiting list, you'll be buying in some illustrious company. The 2008 production is sold out with a waiting list of 12 months. Priced at around $200,000, the Tesla has overcome all the negatives of earlier electric cars by creating a high-performance vehicle with a decent range between battery charging. Tesla has plans for lower-priced family vehicles.

ELECTRICITY SOURCE

With so many transport options powered by electricity, the question arises: how green is an electric-powered vehicle? Although it has no emissions you do have to be careful about the electricity source. If your power company is sourcing its electricity from a coal-fired power station then your travels will still be leaving a carbon footprint. Meridian Energy is carbon-neutral so would be a logical choice for supplying your electricity, as most of its electricity is hydro.

Or you could go one step further and generate your own electricity by installing photovoltaic solar cells on your roof. Unfortunately the capital cost of this means you will pay a lot more for your electricity than you do now but it would be good to know your transport is self-sufficient and very green. As electricity prices climb and new technologies are introduced this will become more viable.

BIODIESEL VEHICLES

Local company Environfuel is collecting waste cooking oils from restaurants and producing biodiesel for use in vehicles. Most diesel vehicles can be converted to run on biodiesel, at a cost of around $3000. You will also need a storage tank at home with the non-toxic/non-flammable fuel being delivered to you, 50 to 2000 litres at a time. Surely having your own fuel supply at home is just about worth it on its own. No more queuing at petrol stations or buying two chocolate bars for $3. Their biodiesel is selling for 89c a litre plus GST and if you are out of town your vehicle will still run on normal diesel, so range is not an issue.

If you are looking for an alternative fuel source but don't want it to be your legs you might consider something electric-powered for around town and perhaps a biodiesel vehicle for longer trips. Either way you'll be saving money and helping the planet.

* Richard Adams is a Wellington businessman in real estate and tourism marketing. This time last year he had three V8 cars and says he felt "a bit guilty" - so he got rid of the lot and is now considering ways to lower his carbon footprint.

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