5 thoughts on sustainable mobility
By a novice who spent 8 weeks studying it
This article is a sporadic compilation of insights about the battery-electric-vehicle (BEV) industry. These are ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out in the industry yet, but, rather, they are some that I feel will progressively intersect as this form of transportation becomes the dominant one. If you want to hear more about my summer check out Robert’s narrative of the work we did.
Autonomous driving will monetize our commute
The first autonomous vehicles have already hit the road, and their presence is something to which everyone will become accustomed very soon, and more likely than not, will participate in their use in the form of self-driving taxis. Commuting will no longer be considered an activity that requires the full attention of the driver. More of our daily actions can coincide with being in the car. Autonomous driving is yet another step in making the process of commuting effortless, resulting in lower stress levels among its participants.
Additionally, companies can more freely, without remorse for distracting an occupied driver, fight for our attention in the form of marketing within the vehicle through the use of screens advertising their products and services or perhaps even placing a demo unit of their product in the vehicle for use by the riders. Companies will treat the commute as a valuable way to secure loyalty and recognition to their brands through advertisements or interactive applications and will be willing to subsidize rides in exchange.
The design of urban areas will change
Urban areas are filled with enough parking to store multiple times the amount of cars that inhabit them. The emergence of autonomous vehicles and shared ride services will improve the utilization of any single car, giving it more time on the road, and less need for the redundancy of leaving a car idly parked.
Additionally, with the growing connectedness of vehicles, even privately owned vehicles or vehicles from different fleets can communicate through software in order to optimize traffic flows. By liberating space wasted on parking and by using road space more efficiently, this could allow more people to live in city centers, but it would also make it easier for workers to live farther out. If one can sleep on the journey, a longer commute becomes feasible. This puts us in an interestingly simultaneous densification of cities and expansion of suburbs.
Public charging needs to become ubiquitous with the help of utilities in order for electric vehicle adoption to do the same
‘Charge anxiety’ is a buzz phrase in journalism about electric vehicles, but this is for a good reason: drivers really do struggle with where and when they will charge their vehicles each day. And the limited options for public quick charging has a lot to do with that.
Typically, urban drivers have no way of installing a private charger, since their parking options are typically shared garages or on street, so they rely heavily on public quick charging. The lack of quick charging is not a pain felt only by urban drivers either. When travelling on their commute on the interstate or on a roadtrip, a driver must often divert from their desired route in order to make it to a charging station, that, more often than not, is a Level 2 charger, meaning that they must wait several hours before their charge is replenished so that they can get back on the road.
Charging infrastructure is living in an uncomfortable chicken and egg problem which is ultimately limiting rapid electric vehicle adoption. The chicken: more charging options could lead to more sales. The egg: electric vehicle charging could use some help from other sectors. With emerging technologies, tech companies are responsible for the innovation in the development, but, when it comes to widespread adoption, government cooperation is beneficial through the form of subsidization or other programs that incentivize their use.
Quick charging is a good solution and its locations are spreading, but we are a long way from giving drivers the assurance they have with gasoline: that it will be available to them when they need it, and in a timely manner.
EV batteries will be a predominant form of energy storage for the grid
Battery costs are falling faster than even the most optimistic predictions. Given the ability to schedule different times for generation and consumption, users of the grid would pay less for their electricity by avoiding the high time-of-use charges as well as peak demand charges. Grid operators also benefit from this system by simplifying the task of meeting unexpected demand and, in turn, reducing wasted energy generation. With this method of grid energy storage, we are simply exploiting an already existing and not fully utilized resource. Therefore, an owner of one of these vehicles also possesses a flexible battery system that can be seen as an asset that contains monetary value.
Electric vehicles are the first form of mobile energy storage. People take the grid with them, even to places that transmission lines cannot reach. With a cheap and reliable source of stored electrical energy to the grid at our disposal, the processes of generating electricity and consuming electricity can be divided.
Given the ability to schedule different times for generation and consumption, users of the grid would pay less for their electricity by avoiding the high time-of-use charges as well as peak demand charges. Grid operators also benefit from this system by simplifying the task of meeting unexpected demand and, in turn, reducing wasted energy generation. With this method of grid energy storage, we are simply exploiting an already existing and not fully utilized resource. Therefore, an owner of one of these vehicles also possesses a flexible battery system that can be seen as an asset that contains monetary value.
Fleet managers will be the first to widely adopt electric vehicles
Electric vehicles are beginning to become a no-brainer for organizations looking to operate a large fleet of vehicles, whether they are used for shared-ride services or as utility vehicles. The significant savings from battery electric vehicle fleets derive from two main spending areas: fuel and maintenance. The electricity used to ‘fuel’ an electric car costs significantly less than an equivalent amount of gasoline. Additionally, the electric drivetrain is functionally much simpler than a conventional one. A battery electric vehicle has only one moving part: the electric motor. Electric vehicles also have simpler transmissions and do not require fluid replacement. These simplifications make the cost of owning one much lower, giving these vehicles an increasingly short payback time for the initial investment into them.
It is important for the user of a new technology to feel satisfied in their choice in using it. Early adopters of a product must have a seamless and comfortable experience in order to justify their purchase and recommend it to others. For electric mobility, this experience must be found in all parts of the process including charging, driving, and parking. The optimization of each of these steps will be very beneficial to the expansion of the use of electric vehicles. Owning and participating in the electric vehicle revolution is still one for early adopters, and industry leaders need to provide these users with a good experience in order to keep and grow the users buying in to it.