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What does it mean to get electrification right?

The use of doughnut economics as a tool to analyse different options and their suitability.
An electric tram in Amsterdam

Now that we know electrification stands a good chance of breaking through this time, how will we know that we make the right use of it?

We know electrification must promote liveable cities, zero-emission mobility and a competitive landscape, but how can we measure this practically?

Many useful new theories provide a holistic look at our societies, economies and the natural surrounding in which they exist. One of them is “doughnut economics” by British professor and economics pioneer Kate Raworth.

Several parts of the doughnut are particularly relevant for electrification, and we can apply these criteria to different options available. Some cities, like Amsterdam and Brussels, recently started to use this theory to guide their strategies and policies. We will see a concrete example later.

The theory can be boiled down to a relatively simple graphic: a doughnut.

A central ring identified as the safe space for humans, with the outside as environmental challenges and the inside as basic human need

  • Outside the doughnut, there are the natural planetary boundaries
  • On the inside, there are the human needs
  • In between the two, there is a safe zone in which we want to be: when we’re there, we satisfy our needs without going beyond natural boundaries

For more information about doughnut economics, take a look at this video:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Context for electrification

Traditional theories often only look at the inner dimension: producing enough to feed humans and develop societies, as if this could be seen in isolation from natural resources and contexts.

This thinking is one of the reasons, in my view, why we are currently confronted with vital challenges. Not all of these areas of the doughnut are of equal importance for the topic of electrification of urban mobility.

The most important challenges that we’ll need to keep an eye on are:

  • Greenhouse gases
  • Air pollution
  • Natural resources needed for the production of vehicles and infrastructure, especially batteries

Different options for electrification have different implications, and we can use the doughnut to provide a framework to assess their suitability. We will later see an example of a city that is already applying this framework to their urban challenges, including mobility.

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Electrification of Urban Mobility: How to Get it Right

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