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Sat 13 Jan 2018 12:09 AM

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Our cities must embrace electric and self-drive vehicles

New transport technologies will help deliver cleaner, quieter and more liveable cities

Our cities must embrace electric and self-drive vehicles

New transportation technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs), can help resolve some key city problems that affect our quality of life.

These include issues such as poor air quality, congestion, noise pollution and road accidents. The integration of these vehicles will certainly require improvements in their costs, innovative business models and new forms of city infrastructure, but the result will be to redefine public transportation in cities.

Harnessing new software and hardware technologies, including machine learning, blockchain and the “Internet of Things”, emerging mobility innovations could allow consumers to move seamlessly between modes of transport, as well as improve how the system is managed, with real benefits to those who live and work in cities.

How to do it

The last few years have seen increasing levels of passenger EV model releases, from almost zero in 2008 to 150 model offerings today. This coincides with sharp falls in the price of batteries, which represent 40 percent of the total vehicle cost, from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $209 in 2017. This figure could fall to as little as $70 by 2030.

Cheaper batteries have also benefited electric buses, which in China now account for almost 10 percent of the public bus fleet. There has been continued interest and progress from automotive manufacturers in developing autonomous vehicles – the general consensus being that vehicles with highly or fully autonomous capabilities will appear on the road in the early 2020s. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) believes that future AVs are likely to be EVs because of lower operating costs and easier integration with electronic control systems.

New business models, such as ride-hailing and car-sharing, are likely to incentivise increased deployment of EVs and AVs due to higher vehicle mileage. These services require a high density of drivers and users and therefore are predominantly a city phenomenon. Digital hailing services in mid-2017 had 4.7 million vehicles and 600 million users. Bike sharing schemes have been rolling out across Asia, Europe and the US: customers of these programmes will complete 27 million rides this year in the US alone, compared to almost none in 2010.

New software and communication technologies will gather and act on data collected from public and private journeys, using it in smart traffic controls that optimise transit routes and reduce congestion. Software innovations can also support city-wide payment systems that enable multi-modal trips and facilitate seamless movement between public and private transport. And smart roads can collect and disseminate data to drivers on traffic, enable wireless charging of EVs, and help control AVs.

Role of the cities

Given their high density and public transit requirements, cities can be innovation test beds for cutting-edge smart transit projects. They can implement electric buses and promote regulation and infrastructure that support AVs, ride-hailing, car sharing, smart traffic control, vehicle-to-city communication, and digital payment systems. These would improve the population’s quality of life, ease congestion, raise social mobility and also help to foster innovation.

The UAE is already pioneering many new technologies. Through the Dubai Future Foundation Accelerator programme new start-ups are encouraged to test their products in city trials. Dubai, which last year launched its autonomous transport strategy, is also building semi-autonomous taxi schemes, while Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City was an early adopter of AVs, with an autonomous shuttle scheme providing last-mile services.

A forthcoming white paper to be launched at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, as a collaboration between Masdar and BNEF, provides recommendations about the new technologies which should be deployed in specific types of cities, and the mechanisms to finance them.

There are, of course, barriers to implementing new models of transportation. These include consumer uptake, city finances, cybersecurity, and the speed of technology growth. However, modern cities can now reap significant benefits if they choose to embrace such developments to improve the design of transit.

Dr Ali Izadi is a speaker at the World Future Energy Summit, part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018

The Shenzen model

How one Chinese city embraced electric transport

It was a little over eight years ago when Shenzhen, a city in the south of China, received its first electric city bus.

In December 2017 it announced the electrification of its entire fleet of 16,359 buses – which is more than the total of public buses currently in operation in the five largest cities in the United States. In addition to that, half of the city’s taxi cabs are also now electric, and there are plans to phase out the petrol-powered remnants by 2020.

This electrification programme might have cost in excess of $490m but the benefits are already being felt – not least as the new vehicles cost 75 percent less to run. Of course, it helps that the world’s third-biggest lithium-ion battery manufacturer, BYD Co Ltd, is located in Shenzhen, but China as a whole is adopting this model, with a total 116,000 electric buses in operation across the country.

Dr Ali Izadi, Head of Intelligent Mobility, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

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