Electrifying mobility protects our health and the climate

What is the future of electric mobility? According to Monica Araya the prospects are better than ever. The Coronavirus crisis has shown us the need to rethink our world.

by Monica Araya

The Coronavirus crisis has shown us the urgent need to build a cleaner, safer, and healthier “new normal.” Now, where is this more evident than in the new demands for change in everyday mobility and logistics underpinning our cities? From walking, cycling and car-free living to electrifying cars, buses, and lorries, the portfolio of zero-emission mobility choices keeps expanding. And this is only the beginning.

As someone who grew up in Costa Rica, and now lives in Amsterdam, I have seen first-hand that the electrification of transportation is proceeding rapidly, and not just in developed countries but also in emerging economies. This is good news because we need zero-emission mobility to be the new normal everywhere, and not only in a handful of countries or cities.

Electric transport isn’t just about electric cars. It also includes traditional modes of transportation such as electric trains, trams and trolleybuses, as well as electric car-sharing schemes, electric fleets and e-bikes. The “ecosystem” is even larger, once other services are included, such as smart charging and grid infrastructure.

People in many countries are demanding cleaner air quality, while scientists are calling for stronger climate action. So, the strategies adopted this decade to reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector will make a difference, if we are to halve emissions by 2030. Here are some of the drivers of change.

Firstly, the global electric vehicle market is at a tipping point in key areas. The average cost of batteries has dropped by about 90% with respect to 2009. A further fall to $100 kWh will help electric cars and conventional cars reach price parity - and this is expected to happen in the mid-2020s. The vehicles continue to improve in terms of variety and range. Even in these times, electric vehicles sales have proved more resilient than those of conventional cars. 

Secondly, the signals from the demand side are growing stronger. Fleet owners are increasingly switching to zero-emission models because of the business opportunities they offer. In the United States alone, the market for fleet-charging services could amount to $15 billion per year by 2030. The EV100 initiative has already been taken up by 90 international companies that have publicly committed to electrifying their fleets by 2030. Amazon has ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans, the largest order of electric delivery vehicles ever.

Thirdly, 13 countries and 31 cities have banned or are planning to ban petrol and diesel cars: Amsterdam will be emissions-free by 2030, France and the UK by 2040. France has turned this into law and the UK is deciding whether to move the date to 2035 – perhaps earlier. Most recently, California made the surprise announcement of its own ban by 2035.

Fourthly, the charging infrastructure is also improving, as is evident in the latest global electric vehicles outlooks, by the IEA and Bloomberg. In 2020, public charging plugs around the world reached the one-million milestone.

But obviously the deployment of charging infrastructure must accelerate. Furthermore, strategies will be needed to help manufacturing plants and their employees adapt.

Cultural change is arguably the ultimate barrier to transformation. To help citizens and companies become part of the transformation, the portfolio of zero-mobility should be as diversified as possible. Ultimately, climate and health goals must be met, but so must the transportation needs of people and companies. 


New frontiers

New frontiers in e-mobility in 2020 and 2021 include: clean lorries, international cooperation, and leapfrogging in emerging economies. Here are some developments.

Zero-emission lorries: California set a global precedent by approving the world's first legislation stipulating that half of the lorries sold in the state must be zero-emission by 2035, and 100% of them by 2045. California estimates this will save haulage companies $6 billion in fuel costs, and that carbon emissions will drop by 17 million metric tons.

The UN climate conference: The UK government, which will host COP26 in partnership with Italy, will prioritise clean road transportation, in particular-zero emission cars and vans, in the run-up to the UN climate conference in Glasgow in 2021. This will be an opportunity to increase the policy dialogue around ways to accelerate the pace of adoption of zero-emission technologies.

“Leapfrogging” in developing countries: Innovations in finance will play a key role in helping emerging economies accelerate the pace of adoption of clean transport, especially in public transport. The Global Environmental Facility has launched regional platforms to help Africa, Asia and Latin America go electric. P4G, a global private-public initiative, aims to scale up the electrification of buses, starting in Colombia.

Electric mobility is ready for the big time. The pandemic will not change the shift towards the electrification of road transportation which has emerged as the foundation for a cleaner and healthier society that delivers far better daily life experiences.

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