The World Economic Forum and the future of the city

Published on Tuesday, 13 February 2018

We are experiencing an unprecedented phenomenon – more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and this proportion is growing steadily. As a result, it is now crucial that urban areas are equipped to provide a sustainable model, especially in the context of energy and mobility.

Fortunately, this fundamental change is taking place at a time when technology can offer suitable solutions. Electric transport, for example, provides an efficient response that will reduce urban pollution and the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The problem is how to make use of the opportunities that are already available to us. To respond to this need the World Economic Forum has published a report entitled “Electric Vehicles for Smarter Cities: The Future of Energy and Mobility”. This forms part of the Grid Edge Transformation project, which was promoted by a group of illustrious figures in the energy world, including Enel CEO and General Manager Francesco Starace, who is the co-chair of the Steering Committee. The other co-chair is the chairman and CEO of Schneider Electric, Jean-Pascal Tricoire.

The starting point for the report, as reflected in its title, is the need for an integrated strategy where electric mobility is not an isolated phenomenon, but can be integrated with – and can favour – the other elements that make up a smart city. These include decentralised energy production, electricity storage systems, smart grids and efficient buildings, all of which can be managed thanks to the increasing digitalisation of both the network and urban services.

The WEF has suggested three courses of action. Above all, what is needed is a specific approach for the market in question and which takes into account local characteristics in terms of infrastructure, urban planning and transport habits. This approach should also involve the key players – national and international decision-makers, urban planners, vehicle manufacturers, energy companies and mobility service operators. This collaboration is vital, for example, in designing a more favourable regulatory framework, developing more flexible tariffs and raising awareness of the benefits offered by electric vehicles for the general population. Secondly, while private electric vehicles are an important element in the overall picture, there should be far greater emphasis on electrically-powered public transport, taxi fleets and vehicles taking part in car-sharing initiatives – in other words, vehicles spending a great deal of time on the city streets and covering longer distances. Last but not least, attention should be focused on infrastructure for public charging points. This is a key factor in terms of increasing electric mobility. Even a simple action like fixing their location can help accelerate the evolution of urban mobility towards increasingly automatic, shared models.

“The World Economic Forum’s new report provides a detailed overview of this unprecedented opportunity at the intersection of energy and mobility” Francesco Starace and Jean-Pascal Tricoire write commenting the report.

By following these guidelines, the benefits of the electrification of transport – for the environment, for the energy system, for urban mobility and for citizens – can be enhanced. Electric vehicles will always be more convenient for consumers, who can implement smart energy management by choosing to charge their vehicles during periods of lower electricity tariffs, or when renewable sources produce more. Not only that, modern bidirectional charging systems enable electric cars to feed unused energy back into the grid, so they become a sort of mobile battery that helps stabilise the energy network, like the V2G technology developed by our Group.

Of course, different cities have different requirements, which also means they demand tailor-made solutions. The report mentions several important examples, such as virtuous models like Oslo, while showing how strategic choices for transport electrification can be adapted to urban centres as varied as San Francisco, Paris and Mexico City. This is because sustainability is a value for all of us, not just a luxury to be enjoyed only by the richest countries.

You can download the WEF report here