g As concerns about the environment continue unabated, we need to start thinking carefully about how consumption patterns can be changed. I have a bald assertion to make here: almost no one will be willing to change to something significantly LESS appealing just to be environmentally friendlier. The people who are prepared to make personal sacrifices for the environment have already done it, and there aren't that many of them. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to have to change. And how will we motivate changes short of legislation? I believe we are actually going to have to offer benefits -- emotional and rational -- that go beyond feeling good about being green.
With opinions like these, I was naturally very interested to hear the presentations of ZIP Cars and ZENN cars at Idea City this year.
- One Zipcar takes 20 cars off the road -- these are shared autos, and that's roughly the ratio of usage of customers to cars
- Users save about $5,000 per year through not owning a car (full cost of ownership, including insurance)
- Once people sign up for Zipcar, they use the car less. He attributes this to the need to make a financial decision each time you drive. Because you pay each time, you think about car travel differently. Zipcar users take transit more often, walk more often, bike more often than they did before they were Zipcar users. Lots of good impact, and no public money involved.
Their operating model is all about making the booking and use process very seamless and simple, with a minimal need for staff support.
It seems that many of the benefits Zipcar users experience have little to do with the environment: they save money; they don't have to maintain a car; they can drive a Mini sometimes; they don't have to find or pay for home-base parking for the car, which can be a challenge if you are an urban dweller.
ZENN Cars: Zero Emissions No Noise
ZENN cars were completely new to me. Ian Clifford, CEO of Zenn Motor Company spoke to us. They are a Toronto- based manufacturer of fully electric cars that use a standard 110 volt plug. These are two-seaters that have a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) and can go about 56 kilometres (35 miles) on a charge.
The reason we've never seen these cars in Toronto is --- they're not street legal here yet. [jeez..!] So ZENN is mainly exporting to the U.S.A. Most of their dealers are in Florida and California. The cars are ideally suited to gated communities where you might otherwise zip around in a golf cart. They are inexpensive, wierdly cute, and they are quiet. Compared to a golf-cart, they are also a lot more luxurious, in addition to weather-proofing the occupants.
Mr. Clifford believes that most cars could be electric powered by using off-peak generating capacity. He noted this wouldn't help much if we are still making power from coal. And batteries are not a very efficient method of storing energy yet.
However he told us about an interesting development in energy storage that might change things a bit. ZENN has invested in EEStor, an Austin, Texas company that is developing a new type of highly efficient energy-storage technology. He showed us an object not much bigger than a free-standing hard drive, and suggested that this type of object would in the near future be able to power a car.
Conclusion: electric vehicles could suddenly get a lot more interesting, along with other electric stuff.
One of the images Clifford used stuck in my mind -- if you have energy storage that is highly efficient, you could gather energy in very different ways. You could build large boats with solar collectors, send them out to sea, and bring them home with batteries fully charged, then transfer that power. And wouldn't that be cool? Business 2.0 wrote about this here.