Together in Electric Dreams

Posted on Fri 12th Jul 2019 at 12:05pm

The death of internal combustion is on the cards, and a massive change is coming in the transport industries. From haulage to motor racing, the age of the alternate powered vehicle is here. And although every industry is holding its breath for the next breakthrough in energy storage, battery technology is sufficiently advanced to make electric vehicles economically and practically useful, as shown by the rise in EV sales over the last five years.

The factors bringing electric vehicles to the fore are clear: roadside pollution is becoming much less acceptable, renewable energy sources are contributing an ever increasing chunk to the overall energy mix, and there's now a realistic prospect of considerably reducing reliance on oil, a volatile and limited commodity. Politically and economically, the shift to EVs is making more sense than say, 20 years ago, and technology is now able to deliver.

Without fear of exaggeration this is going to be a new dawn in the world of transport - for the planners, the manufacturers, designers and users. Of course, air transport is still some way from electrification, and rail transport has long been electrified, but surface transport, and road transport in particular, is ready to switch over, and I think it's going to happen rapidly.

Whilst electric vehicles completely eliminate tailpipe emissions, they can't decarbonise transport by themselves, when so much of the electricity used to power them is generated from fossil sources. There are other options that, whilst not eliminating tailpipe emissions completely, do a great deal more towards low carbon goals.

Biomethane Compressed Natural Gas, for example, is produced from the anaerobic bacterial decomposition of organic waste and is a very effective low-carbon fuel. Hydrogen, in spite of the difficulties handling and storing it, is a very promising energy storage and release technology. It can be used as an energy source for fuel cells that convert H2 directly into electrical energy, or used as a zero-carbon fuel in hybrid vehicles. Diesel Hydrogen hybrid vehicles have shown a 70% reduction in roadside emissions. Biodiesel is another route towards effective decarbonisation but needs to be coupled with technological solutions to roadside emissions. 

So whilst pure electric vehicles are likely to dominate the consumer car market, the transport and haulage sectors will need a much greater variety of solutions to meet the requirements for long-distance, autonomous, off-grid and off-road use cases. Hybrid vehicles, combining elements of internal combustion, fuel cells and battery power, are likely to be the best way to combine low roadside emissions with long range, or grid independence.

And that is really only the start. EVs and alternative powered vehicles, combined with driverless technology and the internet of things will redefine our relationship to travel and transport. I suspect car ownership will go down, as it becomes cheaper and more convenient to simply order a car on your mobile that's suitable for the type of journey you're making. That could even mean an end to roadside parking! Driverless hybrid electric trucks could be delivering goods silently, around the clock. 

Public transport, road haulage, and logistics are all going to change in the new era and driverless technology too. It's not hard to envisage a time when there simply aren't any more traffic jams, and the roads are simply flowing with quiet, non-polluting vehicles.

Of course, there are some obstacles and technological problems to overcome before we reach that level of transport utopia, and that's what events like ITT Hub 2020 are all about. Focusing on the commercial side of transport, rather than the car market, ITT Hub 2020 is bringing together an exhibition of transport technology, a conference on the future of logistics, and a comprehensive display of the latest commercial EVs from vans to off-roaders.

As this market develops and expands, we're looking out for more EV exhibitions and conferences exploiting niches and market needs. Whole new industries are going to be needed, providing hardware, software and technological enhancements to the operators of the alternative and hybrid vehicle fleets of the future, and they will all need their own events. So if you want to understand just how big these changes are going to be, then I'd recommend a visit to ITT Hub 2020 at Farnborough next year, where you will see how the future is shaping up.

Firmly back in the consumer space, Showlite recently put on Fully Charged Live at Silverstone, presented by Robert Llewellyn, star of the Fully Charged Youtube channel, and of course, Scrapheap Challenge and Red Dwarf. The show in June was oversubscribed, with crowds of visitors eager to understand and explore the EV revolution that is coming.

There were displays of most of the electric cars currently on sale in the UK, including the much talked-about Jaguar i-Pace. The show drew in other exhibitors too, including Ecotricity, Chargemaster, Drive Electric, The Renewable Energy Association and Calvin Capital, representing the essential stakeholders that will enable the wholesale switch to EVs.

A learning opportunity as much as a show, Fully Charged Live's lectures and presentations were rewarded with capacity audiences who wanted to know more about EVs, how they worked, their features and foibles. A slew of related presentations discussed home power generation, EV cost of ownership and new technologies around the corner.

The atmosphere was, for want of a better word, electric. Excited visitors were shuttled from the car parks to The Silverstone Wing in a solar electric bus, there were presentations on converting cars to electric drive, and the converted classics on display, including a Fiat 500 and a Range Rover, were a very popular exhibit. Dozens of Tesla and Renault Zoe owners even came to offer lifts around Silverstone to visitors for free, just so they could experience the pleasure of electric driving too.

Llewellyn said he hoped the show would help dispel some of the myths around electric cars for beginners, as well as showing off leading-edge new technology for electric vehicle evangelists. I think he was right - the show demonstrated beyond doubt that the appetite for electric cars is strong, and that consumers are ready to think seriously about their next choice of vehicle.


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