Accelerating Electric Mobility in Cities

Sally Kneeshaw

By Sally Kneeshaw, on December 9th, 2013

> Read Sally Kneeshaw's articles

What is the best approach to electric mobility in cities? Some of the answers to this tricky question were presented at the international industry Forum, the Electric Vehicle Symposium 27, in Barcelona last week by the URBACT Electric Vehicles in Urban Europe team.

The event brought together engineers, scientists, researchers, inventors, manufacturers as well as policymakers to review and debate the most up-to-date developments in electric mobility. The accompanying trade show provided a showcase for new technologies from all over the globe, the opportunity to test drive the latest vehicles, and to take a look at upcoming models such as the electric Porsche and the new Nissan hybrid taxi, soon to hit the streets of New York and London.

EVS provided evidence that the electric car market is accelerating. Over 57,000 electric vehicles have now been sold in Europe, with the highest penetration in Norway, (8% of market share) due to the favourable environment created by national policies, such as exemptions on sales and road tax and use of bus lanes.  The EVS audience was keen to hear about the city of Oslo‘s experience directly from EVUE partner Marianne Mølmen during the URBACT presentation.

Electric mobility and the city

In the public policy sessions the many remaining challenges to mainstreaming EVs were discussed. Many of the URBACT EVUE findings resonated with experiences from other countries and regions, in particular the city’s role in:

  •  harnessing renewable energy
  • calibrating infrastructure with market uptake
  • creating new partnerships with the private sector, such as energy companies and vehicle manufacturers, and ensuring stable – conditions for those partnerships to succeed
  • thinking holistically to make sure that electric mobility fits into wider sustainable urban mobility, including not just private cars but also electric bicycles, utility vehicles, freight logistics

The real potential of electric mobility to reduce carbon emissions and oil dependency is reliant on the vehicles being powered by clean energy. Pedro Nunes of the University of Lisbon presented an interesting vision of synergy between EVs and renewables based on forecasts of national renewable energy production, linked to uptake of electric vehicles, and European targets. Portugal has great conditions and potential for renewable energy production, but progress is thwarted by a lack of investment, due to the country’s economic situation. The forecast showed that even if EV uptake was optimised, with high levels of vehicle re-charging, a well-developed renewable energy sector could still deliver an excess of solar, hydro and wind power. A low carbon energy production and mobility model is technically possible. The challenge is to create the right economic conditions and supportive policy for the necessary investments and infrastructure to take off.

Public – private cooperation

In several debates there were commentaries about the respective roles of different levels of government (international, national, regional levels) and the private sector, and how all parties can work together better. Government’s role, in general, is to set regulations and standards, encourage interoperability, provide incentives, fund research and development. The private sector’s role is to bring the new technology to market, introduce mass production and thereby reduce cost. There was criticism from some participants that many of the current public subsidies, designed to kick start the market, were actually distorting market developments. In some cases vehicle prices are not lowering precisely because of the subsidy incentive.

A long-range vision

A resounding message from many contributors was that return on investment in this market, as with all low carbon economy measures, will be slow. And the general public need to be more aware of the benefits of clean energy and mobility, to change habits and push policy makers to back greener approaches. A new documentary ‘ We’ve got the Power’ produced in California  to raise awareness of the economics of renewables quotes Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn: “There is a need for zero emission cars and there is an expectation that carmakers are going to find the solutions. You have to be patient about the return on investment. Electric cars are going to be part of the future. It’s a long-range vision. You don’t engage in this kind of innovation if you think you’re going to have a return in three years. The market needs people with a long-range vision, with the long-range investment because this is the way you transform the industry.”

EVS provided a useful forum for knowledge exchange and networking on the way forward to a different era of greener transport. And it is clear, as evidenced by the EVUE network, that city policies can make an important contribution to the integration of e-mobility in the transformation of urban mobility.

trombih_sally-kneeshaw_110330Sally Kneeshaw

TPM Governance

Lead Expert, EVUE

One Response to “Accelerating Electric Mobility in Cities”

  1. Kristine Sergejeva Kristine Sergejeva says:

    Comment on the post in the LinkedIn group “Planetizen”:

    by Jean SmilingCoyote
    Architecture & Planning Professional
    Top Contributor

    I was pleased recently to see a few parking spaces, in a local suburban shopping mall, for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

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