Navigant Research Blog

Costs of Fossil Fuel Use on Society Much Higher Than Expected

— November 11, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2According to a new report from the American Lung Association (ALA), if the climate and health costs of gasoline-powered vehicles were accounted for, the average 16-gallon gasoline tank fill-up would cost an additional $18.42 for consumers (that’s on top of the average price of $35.68, raising the total price to around $54). The ALA estimates that these health expenses account for $11.82 per tank and $6.55 for climate costs. Because these costs are not being accounted for, the public is essentially subsidizing the use of gasoline-powered vehicles through higher healthcare costs and an increased need for climate adaptation efforts.

Carbon Tax and Transport Technology Solutions

While the possibility of a carbon tax being instituted in the United States is highly unlikely in the near term, several other countries around the world have begun to mandate these programs in order to assign a dollar value cost to fossil fuel use that affects public health. Canada announced last month that a national carbon price will be implemented in 2018. The Canadian government has proposed a minimum price of C$10 ($7.50) per ton of carbon pollution in 2018, rising by C$10 each year to a maximum of C$50 ($37) per ton by 2022.

Advanced transportation technologies also offer an opportunity to reduce the health and climate impacts of personal vehicles. While EV adoption continues to be a modest portion of overall vehicle sales, there are some encouraging signs for growth when considering studies on consumer behavior and the enormous interest. According to PlugInsights Research, once drivers have bought or leased an EV, 97% do not go back to gasoline-powered vehicles.

The survey indicates that once drivers have experienced the benefits of EVs, such as reduced operation and maintenance costs, they are extremely unlikely to return to combustion engines. There are also currently over 400,000 reservations for the Tesla Model 3, which looks to be the first mass-market EV designed to drastically increase the number of EV adopters. As suggested by the survey, high Model 3 sales could play a significant role in getting more consumers engaged and committed to the electric driving experience. Additionally, new transport solutions such as Hyperloop One’s high-speed tubes could drastically reduce the need for personal vehicles and help cut down on the health and climate impacts of cars.

 

New E-Bike with Unlimited Electric Range Shakes Up EV Industry as a Whole

— October 26, 2016

Electric range is a key factor for consumers when determining whether an EV can satisfy their transportation needs. In the car industry, perhaps the most significant development within the plug-in EV space is the imminent availability of 200-mile range EVs offered at reasonable prices ($35,000 to $40,000). In the power two-wheeler (PTW) market, similar electric range capabilities are now being offered by electric motorcycle manufacturers such as Zero Motorcycles.

Similar, But Different

For electric bicycles (e-bikes), range has not been as much of an issue compared to other EVs since e-bikes can be pedaled and are thus still operational even with a fully drained battery. However, range anxiety is still a significant concern for some riders since e-bikes are generally much heavier than traditional bicycles, making them undesirable to ride without electric assistance. The recently released VELLO BIKE+ is a self-charging electric folding bike that can be fully recharged while riding through an integrated kinetic energy recovery system (KERS). When in this self-charging mode, energy is collected through braking and pedaling downhill as mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy via the KERS.

The VELLO BIKE+ also appears to be the lightest e-bike on the market, weighing just 26 lbs., which also helps the e-bike use electricity more efficiently than heavier models. While the power of electric assistance under the self-charging mode is likely to be somewhat minimal in order to provide unlimited range, the low weight of the e-bike makes the VELLO BIKE+ practical for this application. Having such a low weight allows the e-bike to be easily pedaled under low levels of power electric assistance and reportedly manageable to pedal with no electric assistance at all. The Vienna, Austria-based company VELLO has raised over $230,000 on Kickstarter for the BIKE+.

Beyond E-Bikes

Creating an e-bike with unlimited range is a profound development for not only the e-bike industry, but also for the EV industry at large. E-bikes have now demonstrated that it is indeed possible to eliminate range anxiety, and new initiatives in the automotive industry offer the potential to do the same for EVs—such as the UK testing of roads that wirelessly charge EVs as they drive. At a time when an increasing number of jurisdictions are planning to ban internal combustion engine vehicles, electric range capabilities will become a crucial factor in the adoption of electric transportation of all kinds—whether on two wheels or four.

 

Smart Cities Week Highlights the Market’s Transition from Technology to People

— October 6, 2016

CarsharingA key theme reiterated at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC was the recent evolution of the smart cities market to focus prospective projects more on people and how they would be affected by new technology, rather than the technology itself. As stated in one of my previous blogs, one of the keys to Columbus, Ohio winning the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Smart City Challenge and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options.

Keynote speakers at the conference also discussed the White House’s recent announcement that it will be providing an additional $80 million for smart city projects in response to the enormous interest that the DOT Smart City Challenge received. The majority of the new funding is expected to go toward the National Science Foundation.

Transportation and Economic Opportunity

Transportation as a connection to social inclusion was another key focus area of Smart Cities Week. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “We have an opportunity … This is the first time in the history of our nation that we have a chance to build a transportation ecosystem that isn’t weighed down by exclusions, but is built on inclusion.” Again using Columbus as an example, the city is developing an app that would enable residents to pay for a multitude of transportation options (i.e., public transit, ride-hailing, and carsharing) through universal fare cards, with kiosks being set up in poorer communities to allow residents without smartphones or bank accounts to still have access to mobility services. Connecting to the socioeconomic challenges of cities is an important element in gaining citizen support for smart city programs.

City Infrastructure Under Transformation

As cities around the world continue to reach a boiling point in terms of traffic congestion and a lack of parking availability, smart city solutions have the potential to completely transform city infrastructure, improving quality of life and increasing the efficiency of cities. Low-cost autonomous ride-hailing programs could remove much of the need for excessive personal vehicles on the road and alleviate ubiquitous on-street parking. New spaces for walking and bicycling would be opened up, transforming the city into a more inclusive space, with low-cost transportation options for all residents.

 

LPWA Networks and 5G Emerging as Key Technologies for Unlocking Smart Cities

— September 1, 2016

SmartCityA number of different networking technologies are underpinning the emergence of smart city systems. Two emerging and overlapping developments in communications are likely to have a wide impact on smart cities: low-power networks and the move toward 5G networks.

Low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks are set to play an increasingly important role in expanding the possibilities for the Internet of Things (IoT) in cities. LPWA networks enable thousands of small battery-powered devices to operate for long periods of time (around 10 years on a standard battery); benefit from low-cost modems (less than $5); and offer cheap connectivity (a service cost of a few dollars per year), long-range access, and deep penetration.

LPWA networks offer the prospect of sensors and other intelligent devices being able to connect instantly into a communications network at a cost of a few dollars a year and with no additional investment needed. These networks are suitable for applications where high bandwidth and low latency are less important. Equally important, they allow for low-cost piloting and easy scaling of innovative applications. A supplier developing a smart city solution, for example, could quickly demonstrate the benefits of an application for air quality monitoring or smart parking.

Some Drawbacks 

Note, though, that LPWA networks are not suited to applications requiring high bandwidth such as video streaming or low-latency applications requiring a real-time response. Moreover, they are not suited for the continuous tracking of moving objects. LPWA networks are largely complementary to existing network technologies; however, they do present a challenge to radio frequency (RF) mesh technologies for some applications. These networks may offer a cheaper approach to applications such as smart street lighting and smart parking. Silver Spring Networks, for example, has offered its Milli 5 solution to directly address this challenge, providing a lower-cost, wide-coverage communications module for its mesh network.

Compared to 5G communications networks, the amount of data that can be transmitted through LPWA is also far lower. Generally expected to be commercially available around 2020, 5G networks will have a major impact on connectivity for a wide range of smart city applications. There are signs however, that 5G may be deployed sooner than 2020. In September 2015, Verizon announced it was working with a range of partners, including Qualcomm, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, and Alcatel-Lucent, to make 5G available sooner.

While there are several different technology options for connecting cities of the future, LPWA and 5G appear to be the front-runners—for now, at least. For more information on smart city communications trends, see Navigant Research’s Smart Cities report.

 

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