Today, electric mobility is widely seen as a way to improve air quality and meet climate goals, but rarely is it integrated in a comprehensive vision for smarter cities around the world.
An additional 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050 and, as urbanisation increases, cities and suburbs will undergo significant transformations to create sustainable living conditions for residents.
Energy and mobility are the twin pillars of these transformations, and both will require radical adaptation to meet the demographic and economic growth without increasing congestion and pollution. Fundamentally, the question is whether policy-makers and business leaders can harness and combine them in ways that maximise environmental benefits and deliver greater efficiency and economic growth. It is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it offers an unprecedented opportunity if the power can be harnessed.
As electric vehicles (EV) become more affordable, some are predicting that they will constitute almost a third of new car sales by the end of the next decade. In conjunction, we could soon see autonomous vehicles (AV) and commercial fleets of EVs integrated in everyday life.
These changes hint at a global evolution towards cleaner, decentralised energy systems with power generated, stored, and distributed closer to end-users, thanks to renewables and storage technologies.
At the same time, digitalisation will allow customers and electricity system operators to control where, when, and how electricity is used, and will cause new business models to emerge. Also, more energy uses are going to be electrified, with mobility being one of the critical ones.
As a result, deploying a critical charging infrastructure today, in anticipation of mobility transformation, is paramount.
An EV charging infrastructure should be developed along highways, at destination points, and close to public transportation hubs. This is critical for three reasons: to keep pace with current demand; to address a range of issues by making charging stations accessible, convenient, and easy to locate; and to promote the adoption of EVs in commercial and private markets.
In Hong Kong, for example, the local government incentivises EV infrastructure development by integrating it with the popular smart payment system Octopus, which is also used to access public transportation. This gives EV drivers a convenient way to purchase energy, and aims to encourage more people to drive EVs by ensuring the availability of a network of public charging stations.
An EV charging infrastructure should be deployed in combination with grid edge technologies — such as decentralised generation, storage, and smart buildings — and integrated into smart grids, while at the same time offering a digital end-to-end customer experience. This will magnify the benefits of grid edge technologies, which include increasing reliability, resilience, efficiency, and asset utilisation of the overall system; reducing CO2 emissions; creating new services for customers; and creating new jobs.
Seize the day
The transformations happening in the fields of energy and mobility are inevitable, influenced by market factors and mega-trends that are virtually unstoppable. And their convergence presents opportunities. Businesses have the chance to spearhead the transformation in various cities, and policymakers have the power to promote innovation and new ways of thinking in local governments.
Additionally, urban planners will need the support of energy and mobility-related stakeholders to define the optimal locations for the publicly accessible charging infrastructure that is needed for the EV car boom.
Ultimately, all stakeholders will be critical to ensuring a seamless customer experience and supporting the deployment of a flexible, open, and multi-service infrastructure.