By 2030, the total global population is likely to hit somewhere close to 8.5 billion people, with the majority living in cities. The energy demands for this size of population are enormous, as is the scale of change required to rapidly decarbonise. Tackling the climate crisis means tackling the ingrained inefficiencies that are built into much of the technology and infrastructure we rely on every day. Electrifying transport is a vital aspect of making our cities more sustainable, supporting our economy and enabling healthier, happier lives.
Cities are right at the heart of the changes that will define our world over the next century. Cities are hubs of technological innovation and cultural change and a physical reflection of shifting demographics and economic development. Cities are also a core challenge for the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Even though cities cover only 3% of the earth’s surface (source: European Commission), they are responsible for producing 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a problem with ever-worsening consequences. By 2030, the scale of the world’s biggest cities will be staggering. For example, the UN predicts that Tokyo will be home to 37 million people by 2030, while Delhi and Shanghai will have populations of over 36 million and 30 million respectively.
I have worked in cities for most of my adult life and it is clear to me that we need to transform the way we design and operate transportation if we are going to meet our net-zero commitments. Re-imagining our cities can also enable people to lead healthier lives and businesses to operate more efficiently.
Adding road capacity seems like one obvious solution to meet rising demand, but that also results in higher levels of consumption and emissions. The solution is to optimise demand, leveraging innovative approaches to data and technology, to achieve more, with less. The electrification of commercial vehicle fleets is one area where we can start doing this today.
Adapting our cities
The task of greening city infrastructure and travel networks means tackling several complex challenges head on. Mobility is a fundamental human need and an essential component of growth and prosperity. Despite being in the early stages of a huge period of change in the mobility sector, it will be new technologies and solutions that can address systemic inefficiencies and unused capabilities that are prevalent in many modern cities.
Addressing the issue of outdated and ageing infrastructure cuts right to the heart of the challenge of re-imagining our cities. Take the example of building the necessary charging infrastructure to support the electrification of commercial vehicle fleets, public transport and consumer electric vehicles. Installing public charging points often demands an upgrade to power distribution. This requires governments, utilities, charging and transport organisations to collaborate effectively. Technology is one part of the equation, but planning permission, finance and industry standards are also important.
In addition, the relationship between pollution and health is a major contributor to increasing interest in electric vehicles. Air pollution is one of the greatest public health challenges that cities, consumers, businesses and healthcare systems face. Research by the Climate Group shows that current levels of air pollution in our cities drives global healthcare costs of $3 trillion and results in around 120,000 premature deaths every year. Electric vehicles and low-carbon transport networks present an opportunity to align the needs of public health, while also creating a powerful business case for commercial fleet operators.
Building interoperability and compatibility into transport networks from the start is crucial to unlocking the full potential of EVs. That’s what our single source approach to commercial vehicle fleet electrification looks to enable; seamlessly integrating multiple technologies, standards and systems. I believe it provides both cities and businesses with a way to accelerate the transition to EV, not only helping make our cities more sustainable but helping maximise fleet value and performance too.
Enabling the city of 2030
The next decade will hopefully see several emerging technologies and models converge and begin to integrate. Some of the most important include:
The path to fully electric fleets is a long and complex one. But EV also offers city planners, sustainability directors and businesses much more flexibility when it comes to incorporating charging. Stations can be added almost anywhere, from commercial buildings to any publicly owned properties or land. We are seeing many innovative solutions emerging in this space, including pop up chargers, broadband companies adapting street cabinets to offer charging and lamp posts being converted to WiFi and EV charging stations.
Infrastructure-as-a-service and the future of fleet depots
As electric vehicles remove tailpipe emissions, there is great potential for vehicle services (including charging) to be provided via multi-purpose hubs. At Hitachi, we envisage vehicle depots being operated as a service, generating power using solar PV canopies and sharing a portion of net profits and savings with commercial fleet operators to maximise capacity and efficiency.
Charging infrastructures represent a massive opportunity for cities, charging companies, vehicle leasing companies and automotive manufacturers to create new revenue streams, but only if backed up by a data-driven approach. For example, companies such as Aerovironment and Chargepoint are already offering charging-as-a-service solutions that include fixed prices, battery leasing or swapping, and performance guarantees.
Data and new approaches to collaboration are also driving change in the logistics industry. Consolidated freight involves multiple less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments from various companies being combined into a single container. This not only optimises supply chains and reduces emissions but also lowers the costs for shipping companies. There is an opportunity to leverage canals and electrified barges to transport freight, as they were used in the past.
The increasing rollout of low-emission zones in cities across the world is likely to be a strong driver for EV demand. These schemes increase the utility and value of electric fleets for companies operating in urban areas, such as taxi companies, delivery firms and bus operators.
Covid-19 acted as an accelerator for local or market-based fulfilment models, particularly when it came to moving freight and inventory hubs closer to customers. The World Economic Forum analysis shows there was a 25% increase in business to consumer deliveries in 2020, and it expects between 10-20% of this growth to remain post-pandemic. The use of smaller low emissions vehicles to aggregate demand and make the final part of the journey, results in lower emissions and fewer empty trucks on the road.
The return of canals
In the race towards a low-carbon economy, innovation is exploding all over the world. One particularly interesting example is a study by scientists in California where they looked at the impact of covering 4,000 miles of the state’s canals with solar panels. Not only would this prevent 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating in a perpetually thirsty area of the world, but it could also generate 13 gigawatts of renewable power, as well as provide a low-carbon transport route.
Adapting commercial fleets
By 2035, the UK government has determined that all new vehicles must operate with zero tailpipe emissions, and it is essential that operators signify strong short-term demand to vehicle manufacturers, helping to attract the investment required to drive rapid change.
This is where we can get the whole ecosystem moving a lot faster. As a trusted business with global reach, operating with best-in-class partners, Hitachi can assist in navigating what is an especially complex time of change. By working end-to-end, we can help fleet operators integrate the latest innovations in digital infrastructure into physical infrastructure and benefit from a range of new potential revenue streams. The cities of the future don’t just need to be more sustainable; they need to be more efficient in terms of helping businesses create value and supporting an increasing demand as the population grows. I think that, with our single source approach, we’ve found a way to achieve both.
Let’s get going today
We are near a tipping point when it comes to commercial vehicle fleet and transport network electrification. It will not only help to make our cities more sustainable but create better outcomes for business and healthier environments for us all.
Get in touch to talk about any of these issues in more detail.
Commercial Director, Hitachi Europe Ltd