Autonomous vehicles can significantly change our traffic flow and reduce congestion when combined with sharing and alternative mobility options.
The transport and mobility sector is currently responsible for about a third of Europe’s energy consumption and around 25% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. Now, mobility worldwide has reached an inflection point, where technology innovations such as electrification, autonomous driving and the connected car are converging with society’s collective desire to do more around sustainability and climate change. Electric vehicles (EVs) are set to help reduce emissions and to reach emission reduction targets, but the vehicles are not a solution in their own right. EV technology must work alongside other initiatives and technologies in order to help make electric mobility both feasible and affordable for the customer.
Innovation News Network spoke to Jennifer Dungs at EIT InnoEnergy about the relationship between the automotive industry and the developments around electric and alternative mobility.
What is the automotive industry doing to ensure it contributes to meeting emissions reduction targets?
New technology developments and external trends are happening at the same time in a complementary way. One of these external factors is the new regulatory requirements which are starting to be phased in and, at the same time, we have the automotive industry responding by creating new product portfolios for electric mobility. Another interesting development is the different partnerships that are forming – Daimler and BMW are coming together with their car sharing fleet and Ford is in different partnerships. In addition, there are new players and startups such as Uber, which has successfully established itself as new competition. This is unique: normally we would see the big companies working independently, but now we are seeing them coming together and forming collaborations with one another. They all know they can’t do it alone.
How can companies work together to roll out new infrastructure to support alternative mobility?
Some great partnerships are forming for different use cases. Greenlots, a subsidiary of Shell, has partnered with Hubject to bring superfast charging stations that need to be placed along the autobahn. Those partnerships are happening because the auto industry recognises that in order for electric vehicles to be taken up by the public, these infrastructures have to be formed. What will be most interesting to watch is the development of the EV charging infrastructure in homes and workplaces. We hear about the infrastructure in a city, or along the long-distance routes; however, 70% to 80% will probably be done in people’s homes or at work. We need to think about people who live in cities, for example: where will they charge at home? The infrastructure is something that needs to be implemented quite quickly.
How is EIT InnoEnergy working in tandem with the automotive industry to accelerate startups in this space?
This is a new area for EIT InnoEnergy – we have recognised that this field is really being transformed. The smart thing about how EIT InnoEnergy works is that we are a strategic investor. We are investing along the entire stage of the innovation process and can provide specific tools and resources to startups in their early stages, while at the same time having a different toolbox and strategic funds which can be invested in other startups which are closer to commercialisation. We hope to find these great innovators that want to create impact and support them along their journey.
We also create a system of experts within the company. For example, I have 20 years’ experience in the industry and a lot of great contacts; and I would like to leverage them within this ecosystem to help innovation in Europe. Another thing which is gaining more emphasis is the importance of the customer perspective. Customers’ needs are evolving, partly due to technology; and new and alternative mobility innovations need to consider this in their design. Even with great technology and good ideas, if you can’t get the customer to change their behaviour then we won’t have something new on the market.
What needs to be done in order to deliver widespread uptake of electric mobility in an affordable way?
One of the problems has been the cost of battery technology. As new regulations come in restricting CO2 emissions, this will force original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to change their product portfolio and the associated volume. Companies are already doing their own calculations to see what will happen if they change their portfolio in certain ways. They will be able to offer their products to the customer at competitive rates. We can now also offer models which provide a range between charges that is acceptable to the customer, which has also been a part of the problem – the range is now over 300 kilometres. I worry more about how much additional preparation and support will be needed for the supply chain to keep up with the growth: this is an area where EIT InnoEnergy and public funding would be impactful. Because of that, I think this is a great time to be an investor. We have recently been adding companies to our portfolio which are going in this direction, because this is where we will see some good growth in the next few years.
What sort of barriers to innovation does the industry face?
This is a bigger question than just energy. It is also about everyone’s relationship is to mobility. I don’t think electric mobility is the solution on its own. What I think would be more important is combining these new technologies with the electric vehicles. Autonomous vehicles can significantly change our traffic flow and reduce congestion, as long as they are combined with sharing and alternative mobility options. And new technologies around this are needed; because even if we have only electric vehicles, we still have the same amount traffic driving around looking for car parking spaces. In addition, we need to start blurring the lines between public and private mobility as well as ensuring that no one technology is sitting alone, but that the synergy is with other technologies that are being developed at the same time.
What benefits can digitalisation bring for society and mobility?
We need new innovations such as faster and more efficient charging and more efficient batteries. We need to look all along the value chain and rethink business models. The biggest thing technology can help us with is actually the customer interface and the customer journey. Today mobility is so comfortable – if you own a car in your garage you can just jump right in and take up all this space driving around the city, park where you want, go where you want – it is flexible and right at your door. This is actually one of the biggest challenges: it would be very difficult to give up cars and change people’s behaviour. There is a lot that needs to change; and the tech industry can make these changes easier. It could be a one touch payment and registration process for all the charging stations which would be connected all across the country. In Barcelona they have a total of 52 different mobility apps – that is just not going to work. The tech industry can bring all the solutions together.