SPEED OF LIGHT

Written By: Rebecca Nimerfroh | Photography By: Brian Sager

Solar-powered e-bikes roll onto Nantucket to curb traffic and climate change.

For more than a decade, Zach Dusseau and Tobias Glidden searched for a compelling way to teach people about the true power of solar energy. After moving to Nantucket in 2007, Dusseau went door to door trying to convince businesses to convert to LED light bulbs. “I’d just walk in with light bulb samples and run Excel spreadsheets showing how much money and energy they would save,” he explains. “Then I started slowly building up the solar business from there.” Glidden joined Dusseau’s ACK Smart solar company in 2011, helping install solar panels around the island, but the two friends were still looking for a way for solar to gain some real traction on Nantucket. Enter Wheels of Delight.

“We’re showcasing renewable energy,” Glidden says, gesturing to a gleaming fleet of bicycles in ACK Smart’s headquarters, a ten-by-fifteen-foot shop off of Easy Street that was once his family’s scalloping shanty. But these aren’t just regular bikes. Powered by solar panels on the shanty’s rooftop, Dusseau and Glidden’s electric bikes can cover forty to fifty miles at a comfortable speed of twenty miles per hour on a single charge. “You still need to pedal,” Glidden says, “but you go about twice as fast for half the effort.” Popular among seniors and those recovering from injuries, these motorized bikes allow people to cruise around the island in the sun without ever breaking a sweat. “That is why we call them ‘Wheels of Delight,’” Dusseau says. “Because they are a delight to ride, and they are powered by the light.”

Available for rent and purchase (retail prices range from $1,500 to upwards of $5,000 depending on the model), Glidden and Dusseau’s e-bikes logged fourteen thousand miles this summer, an impressive number considering the island is only fourteen miles long. “The average car trip is less than two miles,” Glidden says. “If we could use an e-bike for half of these trips, we’d cut our traffic down by fifty perfect.” And unlike a moped, an e-bike keeps you safely off the road and on the bike path, at a speed that also flows with in-town traffic. “It’s much safer, and you’re having fun, and you get some exercise from it,” Dusseau says. “So many people have come to us and said that they’ve been coming to Nantucket for thirty years, but after riding our bikes they have re-fallen in love with the island.”

While creating what they hope will be a successful bike rental outfit, Dusseau and Glidden ultimately want to raise awareness around the need for renewable energy. “We have to go a hundred percent renewable,” insists Glidden who formerly served on Nantucket’s select board and has been a vocal champion of alternative energy within the community. “Energy is an issue here. You might not know it yet, but it is.” Nantucket receives electricity by way of two undersea electric cables from the mainland, the sources of which are natural gas, hydro, solar and nuclear energy. And although a fleet of sophisticated Tesla-manufactured batteries were recently installed on the island to help store energy, according to National Grid, due to Nantucket’s ever-increasing demand, the need for a third cable in the next ten years may still be imminent. Dusseau and Glidden believe this can be prevented by way of solar energy.

“Solar actually pairs really well with Nantucket’s energy demand as a simple, holistic solution,” Dusseau explains. “In the summer, Nantucket has a specific high demand as our population swells and our electric use coincides with that.” And with modern advancements in solar technology, energy can now be stored in sunnier months and used in later seasons.

On a grander scale, the two men are also taking aim at global warming. They don’t have to look any further than their own doorstep behind the Juice Bar to see the threat of sea-level rise. Projections show that their shop, along with all of the surrounding businesses, may be under water by 2100. “We all know the climate crisis is happening and the number one thing people complain about is traffic, so we’re just boldly going after trying to solve those two problems, traffic and renewable energy,” Glidden says. “We offer all the solutions here.”

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