Apr 22 • 1HR 5M

Volts podcast: Horace Luke on decarbonizing the world's two-wheelers

Networks of hot-swappable batteries.

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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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Electric vehicles are all the rage these days, but at least here in the western world, most of the attention has focused on four-wheeled passenger vehicles, first Tesla and then all the companies trying to catch up with Tesla. However, across the globe, more than 50 percent of commute miles are undertaken on two-wheelers — scooters, mopeds, and the like. China, India, and Indonesia alone contain more than 500 million two-wheelers; anyone who has visited big cities in those countries has seen the vehicles swarming the streets.

And they are dirty as hell. Their two-stroke motors emit as much as five times the pollutants of the average new car in the US. Millions of people have died from two-wheeler pollution, to say nothing of the climate impacts.

But two-wheelers are difficult to electrify. Their owners tend not to have extra cash; theft is a constant danger; and urban density makes plugging in, especially in a place sheltered from the elements, difficult.

Horace Luke, CEO of Gogoro (Photo: Getty Images)

Today’s guest, Horace Luke, set out to solve this problem with his company Gogoro, founded in 2011. The idea was simple: consumers would own the scooters, but Gogoro would own the batteries, which would be made available in stations across the urban fabric, such that riders could easily find one to swap. Consumers would subscribe to the service, effectively ensuring that they would always have a charged battery available.

The company took a different course than he expected — Gogoro ended up building its own scooters, stations, and batteries, doing far more hardware than the software-minded Luke had originally envisioned — but his persistence won out and the model is taking off, preparing to expand from Taiwan (where it started) to a range of other burgeoning megacities in emerging economies.

It’s a clever model, a mental shift that opens up all kinds of new possibilities, so I was excited to chat with Luke about the problem of two-wheelers, the consumer experience of subscribing to Gogoro, and the other kinds of things, outside of transportation, that cities might be able to do with thousands of distributed, swappable batteries.

(Gogoro)