The electric vehicle transport revolution

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10/09/2020
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COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, how we work, socialise, and for many people, it has focused thoughts on building a different economy. COVID-19 has exposed how vulnerable our economic and social systems are. And perhaps, whilst we may not wish to change our social behaviours, we can change economically.

Wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that the financial resources and energy that goes into the recovery is directed towards sustainable enterprises and business incentives? Pressure for a green recovery is global, creating employment by building sustainable transportation infrastructures is one clear choice. Combating climate change requires massive decarbonisation of the transportation network, and that means building out renewable energy generating capacity to power that network, it also requires wholesale change in the vehicles we use.

The beginning of this green transport revolution can be seen in the growth in sales of electric vehicles (EVs) to consumers. All major car manufacturers are developing and launching EV ranges, and in a few years, there will be a healthy used EV car market too. Norway is the world leader for EV ownership where 3 out of 4 new car sales are either an EV (80%) or hybrid (20%) (Cleantechnica). This has been achieved through a concerted effort to incentivise drivers, benefits include free access to toll roads, free parking, driving in bus lanes and no sales tax, all of which has meant the cost of a new vehicle is on a par with a petrol or diesel car. There has also been a build out of the charging infrastructure, another obvious ingredient in a green recovery plan.

In Australia there has been few incentives to buy EVs and there is a fear that the country may become the dumping ground for unwanted petrol and diesel vehicles in the future. One of the barriers put forward is their cost, so an organisation has been formed to build a second-hand market by importing used EVs from countries such as Japan. Even where government help is very limited consumer demands are bringing change.

With commercial transport, a major contributor to CO2 emissions but a critical part of our infrastructure, there is a particular challenge with large articulated vehicles. Tesla has built a ‘semi electric truck’ which is an articulated vehicle, but the quantity of batteries required is massive and so is some way from being a practical solution. However, Germany, Sweden and the US have been testing the concept of an e-highway, which is a system similar to the electrification of railways, but for major roads – known as a pantograph. It works in the same way, with EV commercial vehicles picking up power from overhead cables, reducing the need for massive numbers of batteries. It’s relatively cheap to install, and the batteries required, even for the largest vehicle, are no bigger than for large EV cars. What’s more, an additional benefit for governments is that the energy used can be taxed just as petrol and diesel is – so no loss of tax revenue.

At the other end of the scale trials have begun with rental e-scooters in Middlesbrough, to encourage people to leave their cars at home. Legislation has been changed locally to allow them onto the roads, subject to a maximum speed of 15mph. These offer a cheap, convenient and quick way to move around a city or town and like e-bikes will reduce congestion and pollution. You do however need to be aged sixteen or over and have a driving licence.

The transportation revolution is here, the possibilities are endless and go way beyond consumers purchasing an EV. It seems to me highly probable that in 20 years city centres will be free of petrol and diesel vehicles, local buses and commercial vehicles all electric, long distance lorries electric and the streets filled with e-scooters and e-bikes. Charging points will be commonplace, with power produced primarily by renewables. If this is close to how the next 20 years unfold, it will indeed have been a revolution and that can only happen with investment, investors and financial returns. Transforming the economy into a sustainably based one has already brought investment opportunities and will bring many more.

 

 

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