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Do we understand the role of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in supporting improvements to air quality?

By Dr Wolfgang Schuster, technical director for intelligent mobility with SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins.

Research into cleaner and greener mobility continues to bring many improvements to traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, resulting in new low emission vehicles on the mass market.

EV technologies are developing at pace
The number of electric cars on the world's roads doubled last year and alongside rapid advances in electric vehicle (EVs) technology, are impacting the number, and type of vehicles on our roads.

With global vehicle makers such as Renault-Nissan actively investing in EV technology, planning to “build electric cars in China”  and other countries, such as Australia reporting to use tax breaks and a $151m national fund to build up to 3,000 electric car charging stations,  EVs  and urban mobility vehicles will continue to quickly develop.

Opportunities for air quality improvements
The contribution that petrol and diesel vehicles make to poor air quality and the impact on our health are well documented.

Improving air quality is a challenge that many major towns and cities are tackling around the world so that together, we can meet air quality targets and create a future that is healthier, safer and happier for all of us.

With emissions from traditional vehicles currently a main contributor to poor air quality, the increase in EVs has the potential to significantly improve urban air quality.

How can we ensure our towns and cities are ready to support this shift?
Increasing uptake of EVs might improve urban air quality but could these new technologies also pose a risk to our health and environment in the longer term?  Could incentivising EVs encourage personal vehicle use and increase congestion?

Dr Wolfgang Schuster, Technical Director for intelligent mobility (iM) with SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins comments on five of the key considerations for towns and cities to meet the EV challenge.

1. A whole lifecycle approach to planning EVs is essential
“It’s vital we take a whole lifecycle approach for the production, operation and de-commissioning of EVs  so that we better understand the aggregated effect of the large scale shift towards EVs and avoid sleepwalking into issues that might affect our goal to reduce the environmental impact of transport, later down the line.” explains Wolfgang.

“While greater take up of EVs on our roads might help to improve air quality, more vehicles could also increase congestion and emission levels, affecting people’s health and wellbeing – we need to understand the impact of incentivising EVs has on congestion and air quality” says Wolfgang.

2. Understanding battery full life emissions
“While it’s clear that battery technology is evolving, questions around the sustainability and recycling requirements of key components and materials contained in vehicle batteries need to be factored in.Some of the resources (used in current batteries) might be in limited supply, and may not be obtained in an environmentally sustainable manner, and even if recycled how can this be done in an environmentally friendly way?

3. Sustainable, demand-led citywide planning
“We need to factor in not only the local impacts of changing travel demands on transport, infrastructure and energy planning, but also the global consequences in areas such as energy provision, human factors, security and commercial models. It’s important that we fully understand the impact of these factors when they are all combined and how services can be sustained.” explains Wolfgang.

For example, as EV numbers increase, so does the need for more rapid and ‘on demand’ charging points.

Transport for London (TfL) has already introduced 2,000 standard charge points for electric vehicles across London, and the introduction of 100 rapid charging points will see the average time it takes to charge a vehicle reduce to 20 to 30 minutes compared with the seven or eight hours it takes at regular charging points .

Lilli Matson, Transport for London’s Director of Transport Strategy, said: “More taxi drivers taking fares in London’s new green black cabs is a key part of achieving the Mayor’s vision of a zero-emission city by 2050. The installation of an extensive rapid charge point network is central to enabling cabbies to ditch their dirty diesel vehicles and replace them with green alternatives. This significant milestone demonstrates our commitment to supporting the taxi trade, commercial businesses and Londoners in joining the capital’s environmental revolution.”

4. Energy provision and loading management
“Energy provision needs to be planned for the longer term ”, says Wolfgang, “and it must make use of a range of sustainable and renewable sources. We should not overlook fears that electric vehicles could put strain on the power network , and should develop intelligent charging solutions such as vehicle-to-grid and emerging technologies such as blockchain and its potential use in mobility payments, EV energy pricing and asset valuation.”

A smart grid will allow a large number of vehicles to be charged at once and is already being investigated by transport operator UPS as it moves to using only electric vehicles in London.

5. Security of energy infrastructure
Security of energy is another key factor. says Wolfgang: “When EVs are built into citywide planning, and energy provision comes from multiple sources, the security of the electricity network and infrastructure are key considerations; who can access the network and how, who can’t? We must avoid energy just being syphoned for example.”

EVs are quickly becoming an integral part of our transport network and as more cities gear up to meet the demand it’s vital that we consider their impacts, in the widest sense, to address the infrastructure and energy requirements needed to meet the EV challenge.

Dr Wolfgang Schuster is technical director for intelligent mobility with SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins.

This article was first published on PoliticsHome: http://bit.ly/2EZ4gse

Find out more on our iM Hub: www.atkinsglobal.com/im