Sustainable transportation is going to be integral to cities down the road Sustainable transportation is going to be integral to cities down the road
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Sustainable transportation is going to be integral to cities down the road

Sustainable transportation is going to be integral to cities down the road

With the rate of urbanisation ramping up, the demand for more sustainable and carbon-neutral options for mobility is also increasing

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Cities are home to businesses, entertainment, policymakers and billions of citizens who thrive in the vibrant and dynamic urban environment. Despite the global pandemic, their growth has not slowed, and they continue to move rapidly toward the future. There are significant opportunities and challenges, which come with the evolution of cities across the societies and communities that live in them. One of the key opportunities is transportation, which also comes with many challenges.

The transportation sector is undergoing an enormous transition as nations actively seek strategies to operate more sustainably. A core aspect of sustainable living in an urban environment is efficient transportation. With the rate of urbanisation ramping up, the demand for more sustainable and carbon-neutral options for mobility is also increasing. Modern mobility infrastructure must operate efficiently while minimising downtime and total ownership cost to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

A carbon-neutral future
Over 100 million electric cars are projected to be on roads by 2030. This is a massive 30-fold increase from that of today. More than one million electric buses are expected to be introduced across five continents. It is forecast that by 2030, the electricity required to power these electric vehicles (EVs) will exceed 500 Terawatt-Hour (TWh). By 2040, EVs will comprise close to ten per cent of the global energy demand.

A carbon-neutral society requires more than filling cities with EVs. To accommodate these changes in the world’s energy systems and achieve the vision of sustainable cities, the world’s energy systems need to keep up with this rapid evolution. Installing energy systems that can serve as the backbone for future cities while simultaneously keeping costs affordable is crucial for success.

The world needs to come together and agree upon a common energy-mobility system. Electric networks must comprise two essential building blocks – an intelligent, convenient, widespread and standardised charging infrastructure and an adaptable and digitally-enhanced grid infrastructure capable of storing and transferring large volumes of renewable power.

One of the biggest challenges standing in the way of this new energy-mobility system is bringing various industrial sectors together to follow a common standard. This extends not just to technology, but also business models, regulations and policies. For instance, when a public transport operator switches from the internal combustion engine to electric propulsion, it must decide on the energy source to integrate its network within the urban environment. On the other hand, electricity providers will need to provide new infrastructure in their networks that can support new forms of energy ‘take-out.’

Suppose companies, governments and other relevant organisations across multiple industries do not collaborate closely. In that case, there is a risk that the infrastructure and vehicles are not optimised and that they don’t work together cohesively. This dissonance between the various systems will inevitably result in future retrofits, which will be expensive and unsustainable.

An emerging market
However, as we move forward, it is important to keep in mind that the electric mobility market is still emerging. Right now, a fraction of the cars on the road are electric, which is why energy providers seek to install only one, localised charger without attempting to integrate it into a larger electric grid that serves an existing fleet operation, be it for personal use EVs or electric public transportation. However, the volume of energy consumption by EVs is gradually scaling up from kilowatts to megawatts which signals an optimistic future for the proposed energy-mobility system.

Despite the certainty of the conclusion, there are still critical questions about how to get there. There needs to be an open dialogue and strong cooperation between the expert stakeholders to address these questions.

The right solution
A great example of a solution that takes a system-wide approach is the electric mobility hub. These hubs are charging centres that will facilitate the switch to digital mobility-energy management and prevent potentially messy, inefficient and disparate charging systems. Additionally, these hubs can be incorporated into our existing infrastructure with relative ease. A vast network of such hubs can be installed in structures such as parking garages for cars and bus depots for buses.

These hubs will provide a digital platform for fleet management and energy flows. They can optimise energy conservation and affordability locally and operate flexibly on and off the grid. Irrespective of how EV technology evolves and energy demand changes, municipalities can enact a greater degree of control over how they upgrade their infrastructure moving forward.

We also need to develop intelligent energy grids which can maintain the appropriate balance between highly variable energy supply and demand while simultaneously supporting all forms of storage systems.

The existing grids can be adapted to become intelligent with recent advancements in grid technology such as HVDC, Statcom and Grid Edge, which can be adapted to cloud platforms through digital connectivity.

These technologies and many others will not only upgrade existing systems, but create new corridors of energy while massively reducing our overall carbon footprint. This will empower the new energy-mobility system to deliver upon our desire for greater green consciousness.

Dr Mostafa AlGuezeri is the managing director for UAE and its oversight countries at Hitachi Energy

Read: Hitachi Energy delivers grid connection solution for Qatar’s Al Kharsaah solar PV plant

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