Climate change sparks the electrification of transport

Climate change catalysed an inevitable shift in mobility, speeding up the move to electricity with industries leveraging technology to continue this shift

Everything in the world is interconnected. With the expansion of cities and growing populations comes the demand for more transport—all of which are proving unstable for the planet. The resulting climate crisis includes extreme weather patterns and high pollution levels, two major contributing factors to the need for electric vehicles.

Electrification is at the heart of modern inner city transportation and opens up more opportunities, but the main reason e-mobility is so critical is climate change. To meet climate demands across the globe—which includes curbing rising temperatures and environmental imbalances—battery-electricity is deemed the most sustainable solution for growth. 

Though charging and infrastructure have previously been overlooked, they have now become the primary focus of technology organisations and vehicle manufacturers. This shift requires advances in both technology and engineering, necessary steps in sustainability that can often be seen as a way to flex the capabilities of technology firms. 

Electrification starts with infrastructure

Electric vehicles have been an important marker on the horizon of the climate fight in recent years, marking a move away from harmful fossil fuels, yet development and uptake have appeared relatively slow.

But what is the main barrier for consumers’ EV purchases? Range anxiety. 

It’s the EV buzzword of 2022 and is seen as a markdown for the electric vehicles that are rolling off production lines faster than ever before. Research by Deloitte suggests that vehicle range was, and continues to be, the highest considered aspect of EV purchasing. 

The consultant’s research shows that, in 2020, it was considered the greatest concern across France, Germany, Italy, the UK, China and the US, with figures varying between 22% and 33% of respondents. Second to this—but also inherently connected—is price.

As it stands, EVs are significantly more expensive than fuel-powered cars and to add to the cost, drivers much factor in the charges for setting up charging points at home, and if you think about it from a non-monetary value perspective, current public charging takes more time out of their days than it would to fuel-up a petrol or diesel vehicle. 

But, this isn’t necessarily a fault that can be pinned on electrification as a form of power. Charging infrastructure, grid stability and energy sourcing play equal roles in the shift to electric, and ultimately the climate contributions of the industry. As one of the most critical factors for EV drivers to go about their days, maintaining their usual frequencies of long-distance trips, charging infrastructure must catch up to align with the increasing adoption of EVs.

Putting this in the context of public transportation makes the argument much clearer, as the industry becomes more dependent on infrastructure to automate the network of individual vehicles roaming the streets. 

From buses to boats, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to not only develop electric transport solutions, but to create a digital ecosystem resulting in a fleet approach to mobility in and around cities. The applications of e-mobility can be seen in many facets of public transport, from electric taxis in London to the launch of electric buses. Public transport systems require a unique approach to electrification and infrastructure is a primary consideration for this.

“Number one, electrification comes from the need to improve people's quality of life, particularly air quality. And I'm talking about nitrogen oxide and other local emissions,” says ABB’s Product Group Manager Traction Motors, IEC LV Motors Division, Antti Matinlauri

“Number two, electrification is actually going to be cheaper to operate over time, as is the use of electrified buses and transportation instead of diesel power.”

Electrification introduces a circular economy

One of the misconceptions of the EV industry is that the machines themselves must be entirely new. As an enabler of electrification, one of ABB’s most recent offerings addresses electrification from a different angle, in that it supplies a conversion solution for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. 

Matinlauri explains: “A case example of a system we created is called Nasta, which converges existing construction equipment into electric powered ones. Another good example can be seen in short-haul ferry connections. We are working with shipyards and operators to sell them battery or fuel-cell powered ferry solutions to create point-to-point connections.” 

One of the most urgent solutions in terms of public transport is e-buses—a primary solution for inner-city electrification. ABB is working closely with manufacturers to provide motors, batteries and fast-charging solutions. Matinlauri is also curious about the discussion around hydrogen and explains that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to decarbonisation.

“We are going to see all of these in the professional equipment or the heavy equipment space, all combinations of different kinds of technologies and energy sources. But, it really comes down to what your use-case is and how much charging time you can accommodate,” Matinlauri says.

Looking at various different applications, electrification hinges on the use-case of each vehicle and the frequency of use. Hydrogen fuel-cell technology seems to be the current weapon of choice for heavy industries like trucking and international travel, as fully-electric solutions are yet to achieve the necessary range required to make them feasible.

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