Concept of the Day: CityMobil2

October 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

robosoft citymobil2French firm Robosoft (“B2B service robots since 1985”) has started a six-month autonomous bus trial in La Rochelle, France. Its prototypes (“Eleanora” and “Mariano”) have already been in action in Sardinia, reports FastCo, where they successfully ferried people along the seafront. They are is a 45kmph 12-seaters (10-seater plus wheelchair passenger) featuring GPS and a laser-guided collision-avoidance system; it has been developed from earlier “cybercars” and shuttles made by the firm.  Further EU-funded demos will happen in Milan, West Lausanne and Vaantaa, Finland, as well as a showcase at CERN; more here. This is part of the wider CityMobil2 project testing and developing a platform for autonomous vehicles, in which research “into the technical, financial, cultural, and behavioural aspects and effects on land use policies and how new systems can fit into existing infrastructure in different cities” will be undertaken, as well as addressing legal concerns and certification of automated transport systems and “cyber-mobility”. It’s real and happening, folks.

  • Nice blog about the implications of driverless cars from Arup’s San Francisco office: “the most significant changes in the movement of people and goods through our cities will come from the convergence of this technology with other emerging trends: car sharing, big data, electric and other forms of propulsion technology, and increasing intermodal connectivity among transit forms”. It’s all interlinked. The writer suggests a reduction in vehicle density due to space-efficiencies, space-saving due to a “road diet” (narrower and fewer traffic lanes), improved safety for pedestrians, cyclists and other road-users (though greater segregation may be needed), an increase in personal mobility for children, the elderly and disabled, a decline in individual vehicle ownership and a freeing-up of parking space, plus further land-use benefits, though there is a risk of suburban sprawl as commuting becomes less of a waste of time.

And a whistle-stop round-up and digest of a few recent-ish EV-related journal articles…

  • Findings and conclusions from the eMORAIL trial in Austria, in which the national rail company provided a small fleet of shared EVs for commuters to access stations; the cars were then put to duties during the working day by businesses including postal services and mobile healthcare providers, before becoming available to commuters for their return-home journeys. In a 700-vehicle system at 200 stations (assessed as the intitial potential) over a year, 16.3million fossil-fuel car kilometres could be substituted by zero-emissions electric ones, though 0.7million km would be ‘new’ (i.e. by users not previously driving), and Austria’s per-capital CO2 emissions could be reduced by a third, the study concluded, and most pertinently, there’s a feasible business model for the national rail company.
  • And a field trial with a port operator suggests that operating costs can be reduced by over 65% if diesel vehicles are replaced by EVs, and that electric vehicles have good potential in ‘closed’ transport systems and fleets. The largest cost savings were obtained with strategies to charge off-peak, battery-swapping is effective in this context, and closed-system fleets are well-suited to adopting V2G technology, the researchers conclude. (More on V2G integration in this one and strategies for smart-charging in this one).
  • A breakthrough with lithium-air batteries has been claimed by a BMW-supported team: using a very low overvoltage in an ionic electrolyte delivers an 82% efficiency and showed no deterioration in a 30-cycle test. More here.
  • The benefits of EVs – in terms of both climate change and public health effects – are greatest in the EU countries with the lowest-emissions fuel mixes and cleanest power stations, which could save millions of euros each year, according to this study, which looked at the effects and costs of GHG emissions and particulate matter on health, waste disposal, biodiversity, land use, buildings and materials, agriculture and further categories. However, European countries with high-CO2 and high-emissions grids may not gain (Romania and Poland, in particular), as any benefits from reducing tailpipe emissions are counterweighed by the higher output from their power stations. Gains were seen in countries including Belgium, France, Portugal, Denmark and the UK (for all of which the most detailed data was available).
  • Fleet managers adopting EVs are primarily driven by wanting to trial new technology, according to this one: lowering their environmental impact, the availability of governmental grants and public image were also important factors, but the decision to expand an EV further was very firm-specific. Fleet managers from 14 Dutch and US organisations were questioned.
  • In Germany, the most-likely EV-adopters are middle-aged men with families and technical professions, according to this study – no surprises there, as not only do they state a higher willingness to go electric, they can afford to do so.  But they’re living in rural or suburban households; this study points out that city-dwellers are less likely to own cars anyway, or do too low a mileage for the extra expense to pay off, and are less interested or willing to pay for EVs anyway. Rural and suburban folk are also more likely to have a garage or somewhere to plug in, and will put less pressure on public facilities. The authors recommend a focus on developing family-sized EVs (rather than tiny city cars), but suggest that PHEVs may be more successful in the early market roll-out of electrification.
  • 13% of German privately-owned cars could be substituted by EVs without their owners making any lifestyle/journey compromises, and a further 16% could go electric with few adjustments made, this study claims. However, it notes that many of the cars which could be substituted are second cars in a household, and also that low-mileage cars tend to be owned by lower-income households – which can’t afford to buy new EVs.
  • And even more: a third of all Germany’s annual mileage could be electrically-driven, say these guys. The biggest potential for EV adoption is in suburban areas around cities, but again, PHEVs are modelled as having much higher take-up rates in the short-to-medium term. They see EVs replacing petrol cars first, but with an uptake in diesel substitution from 2025; user-choosers and businesses will take on many EVs at first, but there will be a jump in private ownership once typical three-year new-car lease deals end, releasing a number of affordable secondhand EVs onto the market.
  • However, in Slovenia, researchers found a higher-than-expected potential ‘pool’ of alt-fuel car-buyers, including more enthusiastic older people; purchase price was still the most significant factor in purchase decisions, however.
  • And in Spain, if local governments put incentives in place, there are more positive prospects for EVs in cities with enthusiastic municipalities – but a negative outlook in rural areas with high unemployment; more here.
  • There are six potential conflicts of interest between EV stakeholders when it comes to the development and commercialisation of EVs, according to this Dutch study: the division of tasks in a public charging infrastructure; allocation of charging spots; influences on charging behaviour; the role of fast-charging; technical standards for equipment; and supportive policies for EV and PHEV adoption. A narrative analysis was made of 38 interviews from which themes relating to the different interests, expectations and strategies of the various stakeholder types were identified.
  • And a study in Manitoba (late 2011-early 2012): buyers were unwilling to pay large premiums for EVs, even if told about fuel-saving benefits – unless they already had experience of/exposure to EVs, in which case they were prepared to pay up to $10,000 more. Conclusion: more consumer education needed, and that marketing so far has focused too heavily on tech and not enough on the consumer benefits. Incidentally, Winnipeg (the largest city in the province) is said to be a good place to launch and trial EVs, having the lowest electricity prices in North America, a 98% renewable electric grid-mix (the lowest-GHG grid in North America), available charging infrastructure plus a local population already used to plugging in auxilliary vehicle heaters in winter months.
  • Researchers at the University of Vermont and Sandia National Laboratories claim to have carried out the most extensive quantitative analysis yet of consumer attitudes towards PHEVs. They used the Amazon Mechanical Turk crowd-sourcing platform to survey 1000 US consumers, and concluded: vehicle characteristics (price, fuel economy, performance) were the most important factors in purchase decisions, with social/advertising influences the least important; the most frequently-stated factors in increasing ‘comfort levels’ with buying PHEVs were significant savings on monthly fuel costs, at-home recharging facilities and thirdly, tax rebates of $7000; battery warranties, the availability of public recharging infrastructure, battery exchange and leasing programmes were also important, along with concerns over battery replacement and lifetime, and servicing or repairs; though over 50% of respondents saw reducing carbon emissions and second-life applications for batteries as positive, these were ranked as less important factors. Those left-of-centre in their politics were more likely to adopt a PHEV than right-wingers, as were those concerned about the US’s transportation energy consumption or reliance on foreign oil/gasoline, those who saw climate change as a threat to humanity (and affected by human activity) – but they weren’t willing to spend too much extra up front. Full article here. This all mirrors the findings of many a recent survey, but calculates detailed probabilities and correlations.
  • I can’t pretend to understand much in this one, but it looks as if it has relevance for EV route optimisation and fleet deployment: a Spanish/Italian team has developed heuristic (“learning”) algorithms which take into account partial recharges and the use of different recharging technologies to model where cost-savings and efficiencies can be achieved.
  • And building a more sophisticated model for EV market diffusion entails taking into account more real-life data on driving patterns to determine which specific user groups could go electric, this one notes (with lots of complex statistical equations). Interesting to see how these simulations are constructed…
  • Second-life EV batteries: their potential for home energy storage researched and discussed here. Household energy use may increase, but economic impact is positive and GHG emissions reduced.
  • Discussion of the move to e-mobility in China with reference to power politics; David Tyfield makes the case for top-down ‘landscape’-level interventions, and draws the links with other low-carbon and connectivity/communications developments. In answering why, despite governmental support and investment, and the availability of advanced technologies, EV sales have not met expectations in China, he looks at infrastructural weaknesses (such as poor roads and congestion which affect automobility full stop), the potentially disruptive growth and popularity of electric two-wheelers as an alternative to cars, against the backdrop of the dichotomy between the technologies of mobility/freedom and those of control/monitoring (I think).

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