Urban Electrification April 2018
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The world's cities continue to grow, but increasing congestion and pollution in urban environments diminishes quality of life and functional mobility for many people. To address these challenges, many city planners are looking to accelerate electrification—especially for vehicles such as cars, trucks, vans, and buses. These urban-electrification plans often complement national electric-mobility targets that an increasing number of countries put in place to meet carbon-reduction and other sustainability goals. For example, the government of Norway wants to permit the sale of only zero-emission passenger vehicles in the country by 2025, and the governments of France and the United Kingdom plan to end the sale of new solely gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040. The government of India wants all vehicles in the country to be electric by 2030 (despite India's current lack of charging infrastructure), and China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (Beijing, China) plans to announce a timetable for phasing out internal-combustion-engine vehicles in the near future. Major automakers are rushing to introduce cheaper and longer-range electric-vehicle (EV) models, and several companies and brands—including Volvo Cars (Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.; Hangzhou, China) and Mercedes-Benz (Daimler; Stuttgart, Germany)—have announced plans to electrify their entire car lineups in the near term. EV sales are still low today, in large part because many EVs cost more than conventional vehicles do and the number of battery-charging stations is still low in even the biggest cities. However, most analysts expect EV adoption to increase rapidly in the coming years as EV costs decline and charging infrastructures improve. Cities are also enacting a variety of policies to promote EVs. For example, in London, England, all new private-hire vehicles must be zero-emissions capable by 2020. In response, ride-sharing-services provider Uber Technologies (San Francisco, California) has announced plans to electrify its entire London fleet, and the company is offering its drivers as much as £5,000 ($7,010) to upgrade to electric vehicles.
The deployment of electric trucks, vans, and buses is the next phase of urban electrification and will help reduce diesel emissions and noise. Large commercial EVs have been somewhat slow to emerge, but a growing number of manufacturers are now introducing electric trucks and vans that they claim can compete favorably with conventional trucks and vans. Because they travel moderate distances and make frequent stops, delivery vans are particularly well suited as EVs (and inefficient as internal-combustion-engine vehicles). UK postal-service provider Royal Mail (London, England) is conducting trials of electric vans developed by Arrival (Banbury, England) and plans to use the vans for making deliveries in London. Royal Mail also purchased 100 electric delivery vans from Peugeot (Groupe PSA; Paris, France). Start-up Chanje Energy (Los Angeles, California) emerged from stealth mode in 2017 to introduce an electric delivery van with a range of about 100 miles. By the end of 2017, Ryder System (Miami, Florida)—one of the largest commercial-truck-leasing and -maintenance companies in the United States—had ordered 125 electric delivery vans from Chanje. In September 2017, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, of which Daimler holds majority ownership, launched the Fuso eCanter light-duty electric truck; the vehicle could see mass production in 2019. Developing electric heavy-duty freight trucks is much more challenging than is developing light-duty electric trucks, but low-volume production of the large electric vehicles may occur within a few years. In late 2017, both engine manufacturer Cummins (Columbus, Indiana) and EV manufacturer Tesla (Palo Alto, California) unveiled a prototype long-range all-electric semitruck.
Buses may be the most ideal candidates for electrification. Electric buses can address multiple urban-transit problems by eliminating foul diesel exhaust in urban centers, reducing the high cost of operating and maintaining public-transport buses, and providing a much quieter and more pleasant passenger experience. Many German cities—including Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich—want to transition their diesel-bus fleets to electric-bus fleets as soon as possible. Commercial-vehicle and mechanical-engineering company MAN, of which Volkswagen Group (Wolfsburg, Germany) holds majority ownership, expects to have electric city buses for sale in 2019. These buses will initially cost substantially more than conventional buses do, but MAN expects its electric buses to reach lifetime-cost parity with internal-combustion-engine buses by 2023. Electric-bus markets may grow fastest in developing countries such as China and India, where air-pollution issues are most severe. Electric-bus company Proterra (Burlingame, California) is also highly optimistic about the global outlook for electric-bus sales.
The increasing adoption of EVs will transform urban electricity consumption, and grid operators will need to implement new energy-management solutions—especially as intermittent renewable energy begins to account for a larger share of the overall electricity mix than it does currently. An emerging business model is to provide EV owners with a new income source by using their parked-vehicle batteries for grid balancing. In Denmark, Nissan Motor Company (Yokohama, Japan) and utility Enel (Rome, Italy) are using ten Nissan electric vans to conduct a year-long trial of this approach. While plugged in and charging, the vehicles draw energy from the grid, but they can feed energy into the grid during periods of high energy demand. Nissan estimates that by providing the utility with grid-balancing services, each van will earn approximately €1,300 ($1,600) per year. Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, Michigan) and General Motors (Detroit, Michigan) have tested similar systems. EV owners will need to assess the impact that additional charge/discharge cycles will have on their car's battery.
The growing move toward electric mobility in urban areas has broad implications and the potential to transform the design and development of urban environments. Paris, France, which has excellent public transportation but is still increasingly congested with vehicles, is aiming to change its entire mobility infrastructure to become the world's first postcar metropolis. The city plans to raise the price of parking, add bike lanes, and ban diesel cars by 2020. The city also envisions having driverless electric taxis that rarely park making continuous trips by 2024, which will free up Paris's parking spaces to become bike or scooter paths, café terraces, or playgrounds. New electric bikes could enable suburban cyclists to cover long commutes more easily. This ambitious effort may or may not succeed according to plan, but it could mark a major advance in understanding the benefits and challenges of urban electrification.