SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY – FICTION OR (REALISTIC) VISION?

by Dr. Huw Davies (Cardiff University) and Dr. Paul Nieuwenhuis (Cardiff University)

What is sustainable? In principle, this suggests activities that go on indefinitely. However, it is probably more realistic to simplify this so that, for any decision we make today, we consider its future impact. In this context, sustainable mobility equates to future mobility. This future is one in which the environmental impact of transport must be significantly reduced – while still remaining socially and economically viable.

The environmental impacts of transport are considerable and include raw material depletion, toxic emissions, CO2 emissions via land use, noise, congestion and road accidents. Many of these are already subject to regulation and technical progress but CO2 reduction has become particularly prominent in recent years. With regard to cars and light commercial vehicles, EVs have emerged as a possible solution to, both, the problem of CO2 and, also, that of toxic emissions.

In truth, vehicles have already evolved toward greater electrification over time to the extent that, with the exception of the engine and transmission, most systems in a car have (or soon will have) moved from mechanical to electric solutions. For the car industry, the transition to electric powertrains is more significant than it might first appear; there has been a significant investment in resources  – in terms of both finance and expertise – in existing powertrain technologies, which a wholesale move to EVs would render obsolete.

Yet, to be truly sustainable, even such radical change is insufficient. There remains a need to reduce the growth in private automobility, find alternatives to many raw materials that will experience supply shortages within a generation (including oil) and move electricity generation towards much lower carbon intensity so as to reap the full benefit from any shift to electric powertrains. A broader transition is therefore required. Many of the technologies precipitate this transition already exist. However, there are barriers to their implementation; variously, economic, social, political and cultural.

In order to address some of these issues, Work Package 3 has seen us construct and distribute questionnaires to participants in a range of EV pilots. These surveys are intended to measure the experience of new and prospective EV users, seeking to record their reflections on the trial alongside their opinions on what incentives would encourage them to continue to use EVs in the future and, ideally, become an owner. The results should prove illuminating and inform any potential shift to wider EV usage. The first occasion for dissemination of this research will occur at the EV Summit we are hosting at Cardiff University on 27th June 2012. This will be a solutions-focused event looking to bring together stakeholders and academics to work through the challenges ahead.

Sustainable mobility is, then, a realistic vision, but its eventual implementation has many obstacles to overcome.