The humble bicycle was already considered a green alternative to gas-guzzling forms of transport - even in this era of development of zero-emission vehicles - but a Japanese company has come up with a way to make bicycles that are equipped with a small, electric boost motor even more environment-friendly.
Kyocera Corp. is one of the leading makers of solar panels in the world and has started supplying solar-powered recharging stations for electric bicycles.
With more municipalities across Japan adopting bicycle sharing schemes to encourage people to consider the environment, Kyocera is erecting the stations beside pick-up areas for the bicycles.
"The stations utilise solar modules to generate clean energy for recharging the battery of electric bicycles, but are also connected to the regular power grid, via a DC-AC converter, ensuring stable service during cloudy weather and for recharging during the night," the company said in a statement.
"In recent years, the popularity of electric bicycles has grown immensely due to a growing awareness of environmental issues, which has led more and more people to seek ways to use alternative means of transportation, as well as the expanded use of electric bicycles at rental shops as fun and relaxing recreation in tourist areas," Kyocera said.
"However, with this expanded use comes a growing need to construct more recharging stations."
A bicycle battery can be fully recharged with the system in as little as three hours, depending on its size, as the solar panels will provide the same amount of energy as regular grid electricity when the sun is shining.
Kyocera's development coincides with the release by Panasonic of the latest addition to its line-up of electric assistance bicyles, the Lithium ViVi EX, which has a motor that is more powerful than earlier versions and is able to run for 42 km on a single, four-hour charge.
Previously, it took eight hours for the bicycle, which costs Y132,000 (€1,151), to fully recharge.
Kyocera also provides solar modules for cars, boats, roofing over parking lots - which are known as "solar groves" - as well as more conventional residential and large-scale industrial solar power generation facilities.
The modules are presently only available in Japan, but it is expected that demand will be high in developing countries that have a large number of people who use bicycles and have appropriate weather conditions, such as India and parts of Africa.