Will smart cities drive the electric transport revolution?

Posted 17/04/2019 by E.ON

Whether it is contributing to global climate charge targets or, more locally, looking to improve air quality in our city streets, transport is increasingly coming under focus as part of efforts to change behaviours and our impact on the planet.

The transport sector currently lags behind electricity in its efforts to decarbonise, but progress is accelerating fast.

Trams, metro systems and some trains have been electric for decades – but for truly green travel, road transport must be electric too, and to make the maximum impact that electricity must be generated using renewable energy.

Smart cities will be at the forefront of this switch to electric travel, because the sheer concentration of people and the infrastructure they need means it will be more effective to install charge points and other technologies at scale to create a smarter transport system. And with rising air pollution impacting on human health, it's imperative to act.

Ambitious targets

Cities around the world, including Paris, Mexico City, Rome and Madrid, have announced plans to ban diesel cars from their centres, and closer to home London have introduced the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). At the same time, countries from Costa Rica to China are phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

Many have pledged to do so by 2030, and the UK's 2040 target has come in for criticism for not being ambitious enough. The number of all-electric cars sold in Europe jumped up by 67% in January. However, EVs still make up less than 3% of the total market and sales growth will be held back until there are enough public charging points.

New figures suggest that by 2020 there will still be an 83% shortfall in public charging points in the UK.

On the buses

As a result, other types of vehicles will make an impact first. Sales of electric buses are booming, with China leading the way. All of the city of Shenzen's 16,000 buses are now electric, reducing CO2 emissions by 48% and cutting other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Electric buses are cheaper than diesel buses almost everywhere – Shenzen's fuel bill for buses has halved – and they will dominate global bus routes in years to come. Passengers prefer them because they are clean, quiet, smooth and odourless. They are also easier to charge than cars as they can plug in at the depot and top up if necessary at bus stops. People are also increasingly turning to electric bikes and scooters to get around.

They're cheaper than cars, easier to charge (often by swapping empty batteries for full ones), more mobile in congested traffic and make it easier for travellers to access public transport.

Cities get smart

Electric transport will make cities of the future cleaner and quieter. However, replacing petrol-engined cars with EVs won't solve all of the issues such as congestion. So public transport needs to be electric too and cities must encourage people to replace car travel for public transport, bikes and scooters.

Barcelona, for example, has invested in clean buses and a smart cycling initiative while Oslo has effectively banned cars from the city centre. Cities will need an extensive charging network, and it must be smart – showing people where charging is available and controlling when vehicles are charged to reduce pressure on the grid. And vehicles will need to be connected as well, so the system as a whole can be cleaner, greener and more efficient.

The future of electric cars and travel looks set to be a bright and bustling one.


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