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Why is electrification key?

Electrification is an indispensable part of the solution.
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So why is electrification key? This is what we’re going to look at now. And I think there are at least three reasons why electrification among different technological solutions that we have is one of the primary ones. First, and it’s quite simple. It’s available here and now, it’s not a distant hope. It’s not a technology that we need to really improve a lot, before it can really become a viable solution on our roads, it can happen today. And that’s important because climate science tells us that time is of the essence, CO2 remains in the atmosphere for between 300 and 1000 years. So every gramme that we don’t emit will have an impact on the future, positively.
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And that also means that we can’t afford to just hope for some solutions to show up. So a lot of other technologies that we often hear about are not here yet. Electrification is, look at the e-scooters, the electric bikes, the cars, the vans, some trucks and buses on your roads. So that’s super important that we understand this. Secondly, electrification is efficient. If you burn fossil fuels in the combustion engine, you lose a lot of energy, just through the heat that it produces. And so the energy that is transformed into moving people or goods is actually quite small to the overall energy that you put into such an engine.
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For electrification with an electric powertrain, you can translate much more of the energy into motion. And that also means that we don’t have to wait until we go completely to renewables to see a positive impact of electrification, we can reduce the use of energy by switching much more to electric power trains. And this is true, even if you take into account the lifecycle of for example, the battery, the raw materials, and to the point of recycling a vehicle. For example, in Europe, depending on which country you’re in, you can reduce CO2 emissions over the whole life cycle by up to 80% when you switch to an electric car.
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And the same also holds for other modes of transport, where we look at electrification. So we know electrification is available. We know it’s efficient and we also know thirdly, that it gives us independence from fossil fuel imports from the rest of the world. And that’s really important, I think, because we often underestimate the geostrategic the geopolitical dimension of energy. We often today import energy from regions where there’s conflict, armed conflicts, we also import energy from parts of the world where you don’t necessarily want to support these political leaders. And if we switch to electrification, we can put basically any sort of electricity into the system. And we can produce a lot of this locally, as we’ll see in the examples.
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So it really makes us more independent of the rest of the world, which is quite important, as we regularly see on energy markets, or probably even on your energy bill. So we do have these three aspects, it’s available, it’s efficient, and it makes us more independent. So for me, these are three strong reasons to opt for electrification as one of the primary solutions for urban mobility system. But at the same time, I guess many of you are wondering, okay, is he now telling us that this is a silver bullet, it will solve all of our problems.
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And obviously, this is not the case and I don’t believe this, and we’re not going to tell you that electrification will solve all of our problems that we have in urban mobility. We all know that in many cases, walking and cycling are super efficient. And you don’t need an electric bike to do this in most cases. We know that when it comes to the use of space, the resources, air pollution, these quite traditional old ways of moving around are very efficient and clean. But then we also have to wonder, okay, what do we do with the rest? Probably will be very hard to have the whole population switched to active travel over all the distances.
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So there will always be some sort of motorised transport, and probably in cities, less than we have today, hopefully. But still a part of this will have to use some sort of external energy. And I think that electrification is really a key ingredient, then to make sure that everything that cannot be moved with active travel is done in an efficient way in a way that respects our climate. So that’s why overall electrification is just one of the components that we need to see to have a solution but it’s a key one that we definitely want to get right

We have just looked at the positive, motivating outlook on why we want to transform our cities.

But there is also a more grim, threatening part of this, that we all know: the climate emergency that requires very rapid and decisive action.

Human activities affect all the major climate system components, with some responding over decades and others over centuries. A graph from IPCC showing the impact of human activities on the global temperature since 1900

The newest report1 by the United Nations’ expert committee, the IPCC, clearly tell us:

  • The climate crisis is progressing faster than we had hoped,
  • We’re currently on track for 1.5 degree above pre-industrial times by 2030
  • Global emissions have to peak by 2025
  • And transport plays a key role

But they also tell us:

  • It is still possible to limit the climate crisis

You may be wondering now: What role can electrification play in finding a solution?

Before we look at this, let’s make sure we know what we mean by electrification. A European Commission expert group that looked at this topic provided a useful definition:

“Electrification of transport combines an energy efficient power train system with the opportunity of using any source of energy other than fossil fuels including those from renewable sources.”2

In this video, Jens provides three key reasons why electrification is a crucial solution for our cities: it’s zero-emission, efficient, and economical.

References

1. IPCC AR6 Climate Change 2021

2. European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation

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Electrification of Urban Mobility: How to Get it Right

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