Ten Lessons From Earth’s Top EV Cities

The second edition of the International Energy Agency’s electric-vehicle city casebook (PDF) is a pretty handy manual for how to chop down your unfriendly neighborhood transport emissions. Released in 2012, IEA’s first edition predated the reign of Tesla and the rise of its game-changing Gigafactory. But it still presciently promised that cities’ adoption and support of EV initiatives and infrastructure would decrease emissions, increase innovation and unlock a decarbonized transportation future.

The second edition builds on that foundation by spotlighting “50 big ideas shaping the future of electric mobility,” a selection of which I have paraphrased below as guidelines from the world’s top EV cities. From China’s EV vending machines to California’s autonomous EVs from Google, IEA’s casebook is an international sneak peek at the clean power revolution that should be mandatory reading for cities, and their people.

Tesla’s Green Pitch:
Any talk of EVs should aptly start with Tesla. Although, the IEA notes, it is not just Elon Musk’s electrified cars and sprawling charging networks but also his stores that are changing the world. Like Apple, Tesla has transformed the automobile into a technological wonder that you can buy from any strip mall, rather than a bloated lot with space-hogging cars that might never sell anyway. This is why states dependent upon dirty fuels have been trying to stop Tesla’s stores from entering their mails, and losing. When last century’s unsustainable dealerships die out this century, you can thank Tesla for pushing them over the edge.

All-Weather Ready
IEA recognizes Finland’s WintEVE consortium for developing and testing EVs in extreme weather, a challenging job given the nation is covered in snow half the year. But for an industry which still has to argue that EVs work just fine in wind, rain, slow and sleet, deeper research and innovation into electrified transportation in extreme weather will benefit all countries, no matter their microclimates. IEA’s casebook notes that simulations have shown that EV driving ranges decrease 60 percent in bitter cold and 33 percent in searing heat. Nations paying attention to how Finland weatherizes its EVs and charging stations will get an object lesson in climate change resiliency.

The Low Zone
The challenge for EVs, as IEA currently sees it, is to navigate the chasm between niche market and mainstream acceptance. With this in mind, it begins its casebook with London’s “ultra low emission zone” (ULEZ), which Mayor Boris Johnson pitched as a ” vision that would deliver incredible benefits in air quality and stimulate the delivery and mass use of low emission technology.” Its an expanded standard congestion pricing mechanism for larger vehicles and is in effect 24/7, 365 days a year, rain or shine. Given that half of London’s emissions comes from the transport sector, it’s a sobering tax on drivers still riding on last century’s polluted wheels. This low-emission zone on steroids is joined, IEA notes, by over 200 European cities implementing LEZ regulations. In turn, “this will require more cities around the world to implement such measures,” IEA argues, resulting in significant health impacts and greater promotion of EVs. Win-win.

Incentivize It!
The other side of congestion pricing’s coin, if you will, are generous local incentives specifically designed to promote the EV future. IEA found that Norway’s package of incentives, from free electricity and parking to exemptions on a suite of transport charges and fees, has (predictably) led to greater EV popularity and high customer satisfaction. Funded by municipalities across party lines, Norway’s incentives are a no-brainer for any nation looking to wean itself off of dirty fuels, and reward its people for buying into EV infrastructure. This type of political and economic harmony is also likely why you repeatedly find Norway near the top of every list of the happiest countries on Earth.

Look Ma, No Wires!
Wireless charging, of anything, is an industry game changer. Wireless charging of electric vehicles is a world-beater. South Korea’s city Gumi tricked out a seven-mile stretch of road with wireless charging system to empower an EV bus using magnetic fields emanating from buried electrical cables. That led to a smaller EV bus battery, which saved money and energy, which led to Gumi putting 10 more EV buses on the wirelessly charged road by 2014. The overall trajectory leads to wider innovations and ideas about how to power transport while it is in motion. Once the electromagnetic kinks are worked out, wirelessly charged EVs could be the last nail in the combustion engine’s quickly closing coffin.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Once EVs go mainstream, there’s going to be a hoard of used batteries to deal with. For solutions, IEA points to Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, which is building the ÒworldÕs first large-scale power storage system utilising used batteries collected from electric vehicles.Ó It’s a prototype system using 16 lithium-ion batteries to generate 600 kilowatts, but it’s a good start in a necessary direction. IEA notes that “what makes EV batteries an interesting value proposition is their large capacity and increasing availability,” given them many afterlife applications. They can be reused in another EV, reduced to component parts or recycled as stationary storage in homes and commercial buildings. The next step? Getting energy markets to incentivize participation.

Share Alike
Being able to instantly find an EV for quick transport is an excellent perk of living in Paris, or any city. But especially dense and popular metropoles like Paris, whose “all-electric carsharing operation” Autolib launched as a public-private partnership in 2011 and has since logged over 6 million trips saving seven thousand tons of carbon dioxide. With global carsharing taking off, and ownership mostly a non-issue in cities with robust public transportation, communal EVs internetworked by mobile apps like Autolib’s are evolutionary steps forward. The rise of Uber has been instructive, and lucrative, but just wait until Uber clones go electric.

Self-Drivers Wanted
Speaking of, Google made electric waves after announcing it had produced 100 self-driving electric vehicle prototypes that could be called into service via smartphone and drive for 160 kilometers without a charge. Using built-in sensors and no doubt its panoptic Google Earth global positioning, Google’s AEVs are tomorrow’s transportation synergy today, and have changed the way people think about mobility. Noting that advanced driver-assistance features are for the first time being brought to market, the IEA argues that EVs provide “the ideal platform for these technologies, [which] may encourage an increasing number of motorists to choose to drive electric.” Don’t bet against Google.

EV Snack Time!
Hungry for change? Try gabbing an EV from the vertical vending machines China’s Hangzhou. It’s easy: You ease on up to one of Kandi Technologies multistory carsharing garages, drop $3 and ride away in an ultracompact EV for around 75 miles, before dropping it off at another Kandi station. It’s such an obvious EV solution that Kandi is building 750 more EV vending machines to go along with the 50 that have already proven a local success. Kandi plans to expand into other regions of China, but can you imagine every city in the world having this type of transportation option. It’s such a no-brainer that it makes my head hurt.

Clear the Air
The IEA concludes its international city casebook with a global call for dramatically increased air quality, which can be significantly accelerated with zero-emission transport. “Today, people around the world have the visceral experience of seeing, tasting, and feeling the negative effects of road transport pollution,” it notes. That is because recent research, and regulation, has decisively shown that risks from the transportation sector are far greater than imagined. Public and private knowledge of this disturbing health crisis has increased, which has made EV’s look like a go-to solution rather than a niche market. “Incremental efficiency improvements to internal combustion engines do not solve this problem,” the IEA argues. But electrification may, so let’s get motoring.

This article appeared at Solar Energy

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