Most of us understand that the challenges of transitioning to a low-carbon economy require a shift not just in the patterns and routines of our lives, but in our thinking too. The ways businesses approach resource use, technological development and collaboration need to change, and the rapid pace of innovation in what some are calling the 5th industrial revolution is redefining the ways we work. Now it seems that the first green shoots of a new mindset are starting to emerge too. Effectively addressing the challenges of the climate crisis requires businesses, governments, finance providers and communities to work together. And e-mobility is a perfect place to road-test a new approach. With transport producing around 27% of the UK’s total emissions, and with road transport making up 91% of this (source: gov.uk), we must decarbonise, and quickly.
One of the big barriers to a more sustainable global economy is that the incentives currently all point towards competition rather than collaboration. Shareholders and investors are seeking growth, yet at the moment this comes at the expense of competitors. The result of this is multiple solutions all trying to solve the same problems. We all want growth, but we also know that we must do more with less. That’s why we’re beginning to see a rise in businesses all over the world creating new ways of working together in order to create shared value. This is incredibly exciting. Within this article I will be using e-mobility to illustrate what transitioning to a more collaborative economy could look like in practice.
Hop on, or be left behind
In order to transform our society, we must ensure that the planet and society are at the heart of all businesses. This means building new connections between previously siloed sectors, creating more sustainable value chains and finding new ways to invest. Most importantly though, it means action and I see lots of opportunities to do just that in the next few years. Before we focus on e-mobility, it is important to recognise that this is not the only industry where businesses, governments, cities and other stakeholders are creating new connections and opportunities. In fact, collaboration is happening across many sectors and almost everywhere you look you’ll see fresh ideas, innovation and new technologies being deployed.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) is working with cities across the world to implement circular economy processes into planning and infrastructure decision making. Municipalities, like Groningen in the Netherlands, are supporting SMEs, entrepreneurs and start-ups by acting as a ‘first customer’ for innovative solutions. Support from industry ecosystems and regulators is necessary for overcoming the limitations of individual value chains. The World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition, for example, is bringing airlines, the International Air Transport Association and governments together around the specific issue of scaling sustainable aviation fuel use. These kind of initiatives work alongside smaller-scale, single projects such as the coffee-recycling scheme set up by Network Rail and biofuel producer bio-bean, which recycles waste in biofuel.
The amazing collaboration happening at all levels provides a huge variety of positive examples that can work to inspire the e-mobility industry. Collaboration has the potential to power growth for businesses and investors, create better alignment between companies and policymakers, and ensure solutions work for everyone. In the public transport sector, ensuring the design and execution of e-mobility solutions has the potential to reverse declining passenger numbers, increase access to routes and help operators scale.
Building connections in the fleet mobility space
The transition of vehicle fleets to electric will create millions of new jobs across the economy, from manufacturing to supply chains. The unique importance of transport makes the sector an essential part of achieving the goals set out by the Paris Agreement and means it is well positioned to facilitate collaboration between planning, infrastructure and businesses. It is through meaningful collaboration between industry and government, where we can overcome many of the barriers to this transition, from finance, vehicle maintenance and charging infrastructure.
The e-mobility space represents a significant portion of these opportunities. The electrification of fleets, renewable fuels, charging infrastructures and mobility-as-a-service are all important tools in reducing the carbon emissions of communities. Collaboration is the key to unlocking the full potential of these transformative technologies. I think the sector has an absolutely central role to play in linking together different sectors and stakeholders.
Here are a few potential ways we could make this happen:
- Working with businesses to help electrify their corporate fleets, offer better shared e-mobility solutions to their workforces or install charging infrastructure to facilitate workers with electric vehicles.
- Collaborating with governments, cities and other technology companies to design and deploy interoperable charging infrastructure.
- Creating mechanisms for responsible data-sharing between local and national organisations in order to facilitate better operation of connected vehicles, management of mobility systems and positively inform future policy developments.
- Continuing to engage constructively with policymakers, automotive and tech partners to test and develop electric charging and storage solutions for use across different mobility platforms.
- Working with urban planners and automotive companies to scale mobility-as-a-service.
- Contributing to the development and adoption of industry standards and guidelines.
The key here is building interoperability into everything we do, and shared charging hubs are the best example of how this could work in practice. Currently, operators run their own hubs, meaning that capacity is wasted, and the number of potential users islimited. However, by opening up ecosystems of these hubs to a wider range of users, vehicles could be more intelligently assigned optimal timings and locations for charging and resources can be used more effectively. Interoperability is a guiding principle for the move away from competition to collaboration and one that needs to be rooted into transportation solutions right from the very start.
The role of finance
Along with our approach to working together, the way we finance projects and companies needs a rethink. Typically, investors want to put their money into companies that are growing faster than the competition, which makes reframing the incentives difficult. At the very least we need government assurance to provide loan guarantees and more innovation in tools to co-finance major projects and spread the risks and rewards among multiple parties. The role of initiatives like those mentioned above from the OECD and WEF could prove to be important ways of channelling investment to the places it needs to go. But the incentives for investors need to be right.
The success of e-mobility and the transition to a low-carbon economy requires us all to focus on building long-term value for shareholders and communities, resilience and the capacity in social and environmental systems. Achieving this means looking beyond investors and financial institutions and engaging constructively with a much broader range of partners and stakeholders. We are going to need lots of innovative thinking and shared conviction to not only de-risk e-mobility and create new revenue streams but to successfully navigate the complexity of the challenges ahead too.
Embodying a new approach to collaboration
The reality is that we can all continue trying to create solutions to address the climate crisis on our own, or we can work together to maximise the potential for success. Why create a multitude of technologies competing to solve the same problem, when we know that we have a solid foundation to work from already?
Carbon-free transportation is here, but right now the pieces are scattered. As a global community of business leaders, tech innovators and policymakers, it is up to us to put them together. Promoting collaboration doesn’t just make sense in terms of building more sustainable transport systems, it can also help future-proof businesses and drive growth over the coming decades.
Hitachi ZeroCarbon aims to deliver the industry’s most innovative end-to-end decarbonisation solutions through our whole system approach. We are always looking for partners who can help us create value and power the transition to our zero-carbon future.