Electric mobility: opportunities and challenges

Emissions from transport in Europe are still rising, while electric mobility is struggling to take off. The main obstacles to the spread of e-mobility are the limited number of batteries on the market and the underdeveloped infrastructure.

The EU's transition to a low-carbon society

Greenhouse gases decreased by 23 % between 1990 and 2016, says the third "Energy Union" status report, which tracks the EU's transition to a low-carbon society. However, we must not let our guard down, as emissions from the transport sector continue to grow while electric vehicles are still a niche market.

Promoting the electrification of public transport presents some challenges: greater range implies heavier batteries, which reduce the charging capacity of vehicles and can damage road surfaces. In addition, over a longer time scale, the charging frame tends to shrink.

European mobility plans

One of the most advanced European electric mobility plans is underway in Nottingham, UK, supported by the European REMOURBAN project. Among the initiatives, the city has introduced a fleet of 58 fully electric buses. Most of them are 9.2 meters long and can accommodate 43 people.

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The latest 13 vehicles purchased are larger - 12 metres long - have a longer range and can travel for up to 18 hours at a time. Steve Cornes, senior public transport project manager at Nottingham City Council, says: "Our buses typically run between 5am and 8.30pm. Charging is done over a five-hour period at night, using low-cost electricity rates."

More range means heavier batteries. However, Richard Wellings, Nottingham City Council's senior public transport manager, explains: "The heaviest buses in our fleet are equivalent in weight to the traditional double-decker buses that also operate in the city.

So they don't cause any more damage to our road surfaces or local streets than these vehicles." Since 2012, Nottingham City Council's electric vehicles have saved £300,000 (more than €331,000) in fuel and reduced carbon emissions by at least 1,050 tons.

The Remourban project in Spain

The Spanish city of Valladolid, which is also collaborating in the REMOURBAN project, has a small fleet of five 12-meter hybrid (diesel and electric) buses that run on the 12-kilometer-long electric line. Another six new hybrid vehicles will be delivered later this year and will cover another route. The buses are recharged quickly during service at two points, at the beginning and end of the route," explains José Barriga, general manager of Vectia Mobility, the company that manufactured the vehicles. "The buses recharge to 150 kW in 4 minutes".

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Of course, these are not zero-emission vehicles, but "this concept helps reduce the size of the battery and minimizes the cost and charging of the vehicles, while ensuring maximum capacity of transport of passengers. The battery weight of our buses is about 400 kg, which is significantly less than the 3 to 4 tons needed for those with overnight charging solutions."
Electrification of private transport

Successful electrification of private transportation is even more difficult. First, because of the high price of electric cars. In fact, the number of e-drivers is increasing in countries whose governments have supported them with generous incentives and tax breaks.

Electric mobility in Norway

The best example is Norway, where in 2017, zero-emission cars accounted for more than 50 % of new car sales, a world record. Another important issue is the low coverage of charging infrastructure.

"The current situation shows very different levels of development for electric mobility, more advanced in the Baltic countries, more acceptable in Central Europe, definitely insufficient in the southern states," explains Fabio Capocaccia, president of the Istituto Internazionale delle Comunicazioni (IIC), Genoa, Italy.

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