As cities get smarter to cope with the challenges of ever-increasing urbanization, transportation is an area of primary focus. If people and goods cannot move around freely, the city grinds to a halt. Heavy traffic powered by internal combustion engines also generates a lot of pollution. Los Angeles has been battling with smog since 1943. The rapid economic growth in China has resulted in serious, and seemingly insoluble, air pollution problems.
Smart transportation solutions can keep the traffic moving and help to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, but a shift to electric vehicles (EVs) would at least address air pollution issues if not those of traffic congestion. The problem is that the component technology (primarily battery packs) is too expensive and the driving range falls short of what people are used to. While plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales are actually higher than hybrids were at a similar development stage, they are not taking off in the volumes necessary to make a difference in rapidly growing cities.
One option is the introduction of electric car sharing systems, such as the Autolib program in Paris. Another example is Daimler, which introduced its all-electric car sharing program through its subsidiary Car2Go in Amsterdam and San Diego in November 2011. Autolib uses specially designed EVs from Bollore, while the Daimler program uses an electric drive version of the smart fortwo. Ford announced in March 2013 that it will pilot a carsharing service called FORD2GO through its dealer network in Germany, although the system will initially offer conventional vehicles. BMW’s DriveNow carsharing service was launched in San Francisco in September 2012. Toyota is planning an electric car sharing service in Grenoble starting in 2014. Fleet operations offer a good way for OEMs to learn about the operating and maintenance costs of new technology.
Lighter, Slower, Better
There is another reason for cities to encourage EV ownership and use, and that is to use the vehicle batteries as temporary energy storage. This could be as part of a smart grid deployment or a microgrid – for example, in a business park or a housing development project. If vehicle owners all plug in when they get home and specify when they next need their cars, a smart grid can charge when overall electricity demand is low and potentially use some of the stored energy for load balancing on the grid if required. This is particularly useful if energy is being generated from renewable sources.
Another idea is to develop a city car that is significantly smaller and lighter than a conventional vehicle. Affordable EVs limited to city use could be a radical option for future transport needs. The great advantage of this is that the car could be much lighter than existing vehicles, which are designed to carry up to five occupants at high speed and protect them from harm in crash situations. Lighter, simpler cars can get acceptable range from smaller batteries. Even more flexibility can be offered if wireless and/or fast charging becomes widely available.
The major drawback is that city cars don’t meet all the existing road safety standards. For them to be practical, cities might have to designate areas restricted to these light city EVs, and national certification organizations would have to develop new standards. The vehicle may be prohibited from freeways and restricted to travel on urban surface streets. Light, cheap, and electric could well be the transportation solution for smart cities of the future.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Smart Cities, Smart Transportation Program
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