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BLOG: How it’s all finally adding up for renewable transport

Posted on 22/02/2019 by Nick Sharpe

Low-carbon transport is a numbers game.

But are the stats stacking up in favour of EVs, hydrogen and the rest – or is fossil still king?

A Scottish Renewables event this week heard from 10 speakers whose views on the shift to cleaner transport suggested only one conclusion.

The results are in, and the future of transport is clean.

Some of those numbers:

  • The world’s 15 largest ships emit as much nitrogen and sulphur as all the world’s 760 million cars (Chris Dunn, Ferguson Marine).
  • The motors which power electric vehicles are three times as efficient as the internal combustion engine (Barry Carruthers, ScottishPower).
  • 53% of everything which moves in Scotland is freight (Helen Wylde, Transport Systems Catapult).

The event, titled The Road to Renewable Transport Solutions, showcased an increasing interest in the future of transport and its implications for our carbon emissions.

Transport Scotland’s Stuart Greig opened the day, providing an overview of the sector in Scotland which majored on the many ways government can meet its commitment to phase out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032.

Stuart said:

“We have already seen a huge uptake in use of the electric charging network, and that is a network which is overscaled for the number of EVs on the road today.

“One of the challenges we face in the future is combating the idea that there aren’t enough charging places in Scotland. That’s a myth we need to quickly unpick.”

Stuart was also the first at the event to uncover a common theme in the event’s first session – that changing pricing for EV charging often fails to have the required result: reducing the number of people plugging in during the evening peak.

He added:

Price controls don’t influence behaviours in the way we might hope."

That was a topic picked up by expert Dr Moira Nicolson a Senior Behavioural Insights Practitioner at electricity regulator Ofgem.

She told how the organisation was using ‘nudges’ to shift behaviour, saying:

“We have traditionally looked at behaviour change from an economic perspective, but there is a lot of research which shows we are influenced by so much more than price.

“Nudges are not about banning things. We’re still focussed on that freedom of choice.

“What we know is that people will do something if its easy, if they are being asked to do it at the right time, if it’s seen as something that other people do and if it's attractive. Money is just one part of that attractiveness – there are other tools we can deploy.”

Clean transport’s inspirational effects were front and centre at the Scottish Renewables event, held in Glasgow.

Dundee – affectionately described by the city council’s City Development Convenor Lynne Short as “26 square miles of perfection” – is leading the charge in EV deployment.

But its enthusiasm came from a practical place: “a need to balance the coffers”.

And while the local authority is now charging for power provides to EVs, Cllr Short told how users didn’t begrudge that.

She said:

“We started out offering electricity for free but the rate of EV adoption has been so steep that we now cannot justify the £100,000 a year that was costing.

“People’s enthusiasm for their EVs hasn’t been diminished by this, though. They’ve adopted the vehicles and understand the benefits they bring, of which cost savings are just one.

“Key for Dundee was our taxi fleet, which now contains more than 100 EV taxis.

“Early adoption by a forward-thinking taxi company really helped build confidence in electric vehicles – taxi firms will not do anything which doesn’t benefit them, and they really see the difference EVs can make. We call them our ‘ambassadors of the road’.”

The Transport System Catapult’s Helen Wylde also referenced Dundee, saying the three decades between her visits to the city had seen huge changes:

“I hadn't been to Dundee for 30 years and when I went back I was blown away.

“If you’re asking me what kind of place will succeed in that low-carbon transport space, I would bank on Dundee.”

EDF Energy’s Electric Vehicles Lead Niall Riddell described how the 2012 London Olympics acted as a springboard for the company’s move into EV infrastructure, which began with a first charge point in London in 1999.

He discussed some of the grid services EVs can provide, but acknowledged the challenges of tapping the car’s latent power:

“The customer is buying a car, not a battery on wheels, but that is how, as utilities, we have come to think of them.”

Smart charging infrastructure, which maximises the benefits of the storage capacity hidden in EVs but doesn’t interfere with consumer needs, is a must, Niall said.

EDF are one of several utilities delivering products to consumers which bring together vehicles, charging and energy supply. For EDF, working in partnership with car manufacturers and charging solution providers has been critical to ensure a seamless experience for consumers.

The Glasgow event’s second session saw a move away from road transport.

Ferguson Marine’s Chris Dunn told how he felt the shipping industry’s record on emissions, alongside Scotland’s constrained (in his words, “wasted”) wind power, was:

"Like a horror story: and we need to do something about it."

The company is developing word-first hydrogen ferries for routes in Orkney, where hydrogen from constrained renewables is already part of the energy mix.

He said:

“At Ferguson Marine we want to change the face of global shipping – we want to prove we can use and store hydrogen on a ferry.

“There are no rules for doing this, so we are working with regulators to develop those.

“People think about hydrogen and they think about bombs and airships, but these perception problems are not insurmountable, as we're seeing in Orkney.”

The implications of further rail electrification was also discussed, with Paul Minto of Addleshaw Goddard telling delegates that the rail industry has single biggest electricity supply contract in the UK – 3TWh per year, or 1% of the UK’s electricity demand.

Addleshaw Goddard has already done research on where wind farm locations coincide with rail and road routes along Scotland’s A9 corridor, and sees no reason the three cannot work together more closely in future.

At Scottish Renewables we’ve been hugely encouraged by the success of this week’s event, and the appetite for knowledge it displayed.

It seems the numbers really are adding up for a clean transport.

Pic: Co-wheels Car Club

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications