Electrification of Transport at the Convergence of Mobility, Energy for Smarter City Transformations

As urbanization increases — an additional 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050 — cities and suburbs will undergo significant transformations to create sustainable living conditions for their residents. Energy and mobility are the twin pillars of these transformations, and both will require radical adaptation to meet the demographic and economic growth without increasing congestion and pollution. The question is whether policy-makers and business leaders can harness and combine them in ways that maximize their benefits for environment and create greater efficiency and economic growth. The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers an unprecedented opportunity. The Fourth Industrial Revolution in energy and mobility systems.

Mobility is changing.

As electric vehicles (EV) become more affordable, some are predicting that they will constitute almost a third of new-car sales by the end of the next decade. Ride-sharing continues to surge, with estimates that by 2030, it will account for more than 25% of all miles driven globally, up from 4% today. These changes are just the first hints of what is to come as we will soon see autonomous vehicles (AV) and commercial fleets of EVs integrated as parts of everyday life. In the future, AVs will also cost significantly less per mile than vehicles with internal combustion engines for personal-use — by as much as 40% — and could also reduce congestion and traffic incidents.

At the same time, energy is changing.

We are amid a global evolution toward energy systems that are cleaner and increasingly decentralized, with energy generated, stored, and distributed closer to the final customers, with renewables and storage technologies. At the same time, digitalization will allow customers and electricity system operators to control where, when, and how electricity is being used and new business models to emerge. And finally, new and more energy uses are going to be electrified — mobility being one of the critical ones.

These trends have the potential to reinforce each other and actively contribute to make our cities smarter. Forward-thinking business leaders and policy-makers must act now to lay the foundation for sustainable innovation in urban environments — able to capture and combine these new trends.

A new approach to electrification of transport is required.

Electric mobility is widely seen today as a way to improve air quality and meet climate goals, but rarely is it integrated in a comprehensive vision for smarter cities. EVs continue to be associated to traditional ownership and use models, and still considered as just cars: the innovative uses and services associated to batteries or to the integration with smart buildings are ignored or at least not enough explored. Charging stations are still developed with limited or no consideration of the energy issues, or not exploiting enough digital technologies, over-complicating the customer experience. Their location will also inevitably change with the transition to shared and autonomous mobility.

“Electric Vehicles for Smarter Cities: The Future of Energy and Mobility”, a report from The World Economic Forum, developed in cooperation with Bain & Company, suggests following three general principles:

1. Take a multi-stakeholder and market-specific approach

The investment and infrastructure required to support electric mobility will vary significantly from one place to another. Any roadmap to electric mobility should be adapted to three main characteristics of the specific market: local infrastructure and design; energy system; and mobility culture and patterns. All relevant stakeholders should be engaged to collectively define a new paradigm for cities that go beyond the today’s industry divisions, in search for complementary municipal, regional, and national policies.

2. Prioritize high-use electric vehicles

Electric taxis and public transportation will have a great impact in reducing carbon emissions. These types of vehicles are driven far more than personal-use vehicles, so commercial and public EV fleet development should be encouraged. For example, Schneider Electric and BMW are part of a consortium of companies in Bangkok that is partnering with King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi to spur the use of electric vehicles across Thailand, initially through car sharing and a campus-based electric bus.

3. Deploy critical charging infrastructure today while anticipating the mobility transformation

EV charging infrastructure should be developed along highways, at destination points, and close to public transportation nodes. This is critical for three reasons: first, to keep pace with current demand. Second, to address range anxiety issues by making charging stations accessible, convenient, and easy to locate. And, lastly, to promote the adoption of EVs in commercial and private markets.

In Hong Kong, the local government incentivizes EV infrastructure developers by allowing them to integrate Octopus, a popular smart payment system also used to access public transportation. This gives EV drivers a convenient and familiar way to purchase energy, and aims to encourage more people to drive EVs by ensuring the availability of a network of public charging stations.

The infrastructure should be deployed in combination with grid edge technologies — such as decentralized generation, storage, and smart buildings — and integrated in smart grids, while at the same time offering a digital end-to-end customer experience. This will magnify the benefits of grid edge technologies: increasing reliability, resilience, efficiency, and asset utilization of the overall system; reducing CO2 emissions; creating new services for customers; and creating new jobs.