We all know that electric bicycles are an integral part of the urban mobility infrastructure of many countries all over the world. In Europe and Asia, several countries are giving aggressive incentives to folks who opt to make the switch to commuting on two wheels. The growing number of infrastructure projects that have cycling as part of their core is also evidence of this.
With all the developments surrounding e-bikes—most of them positive—why is it that some organizations and institutions are taking a backwards approach when it comes to e-bikes? For example, Electrek recently reported that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has just rolled out a blanket ban that prevents all electric bicycles and scooters from being stored inside.
Yes, NREL, an organization dedicated to finding energy solutions for the future has just banned all e-bikes and e-scooters. How ironic is that?
According to Electrek’s report, NREL’s hardline approach towards e-mobility devices stems from safety issues, more specifically, fires. Indeed, e-bike fires have proven to be deadly and difficult to control due to the chemicals and elements found in their batteries, so NREL’s concerns aren't a 100% unfounded.
Nicholas Barlett, NREL’s fire marshall, told Electrek that “The data in the past few years shows an alarming trend of injuries and deaths, as demonstrated by entities such as NYFD and the UL Fire Safety Research Institute. The fires and explosions are attributed to a wide variety of causes such as mismatched chargers, overcharging, uncertified/Listed batteries, poor manufacturing quality, homemade devices, etc. We cannot necessarily control what people purchase and use, but in some instances, we are able to put restrictions on where and how an activity can be done (and we routinely do for everything from experiments with chemicals to fall protection).”
Electric bicycle and other e-mobility-related fires are nothing new, and we’ve tackled a good number of these issues in plenty of articles in the past. At the end of the day, I don’t think blanket bans are the solution to this problem, but rather, ensuring that all electric bicycles sold to the public conform to safety standards that undergo rigorous testing – certifications from organizations like TUV or UL should be more than enough to provide the necessary peace of mind for people to embrace e-bikes as a whole. Needless to say, this is so much easier said than done, as there’s the factor of backyard mechanics and electricians tinkering with their e-bikes’ motors and batteries.
It’s important to note that despite prohibiting e-bikes within its premises, NREL isn’t banning its employees from riding e-bikes to work. The organization is reportedly setting up outdoor charging stations and parking areas for e-bike riding employees and visitors to use. These charging areas are located at a “reasonable distance from building entrances.”
At the same time, it’s also important to understand that the nature of NREL’s business is to find alternative energy solutions, and sometimes, this work entails dealing with sensitive and flammable chemicals. This could also be one of the reasons for the institute’s strict approach towards e-bikes.
While it seems that NREL has had no other choice but to implement a blanket ban on all e-bikes from being stored and charged indoors, we sure hope that this will change in the future, as more and more e-bike manufacturers build up their tech and vye for third-party certification. What do you think? Is a blanket ban on e-bikes too drastic of a measure? Or are NREL’s fears justifiable?
This headline has been updated to make NREL's policy on e-bikes more clear.