Recently, I have visited the launch event of the new Austrian Sustainable Mobility association at the Natural History Museum Vienna where it was possible to take a look at electric cars, bicycles and motorbikes. Moreover, I had the opportunity to interview Craig Davis from TESLA MOTORS about his company’s electric sports car, its contribution in the area of sustainability and the future of mobility (see the following video).
In fact, electromobility is often cited as a business opportunity for the automobile industry especially after the whole industry was severely hit by the economic crisis. Although there are several interesting electromobility projects in the Austrian states of Vorarlberg (biggest European pilot project with 100 electric cars), Carinthia and Upper Austria, there are even bigger and more exciting plans in countries like the USA, Germany, the UK, Israel or Denmark.
In the face of ambitious political plans and an automotive industry searching for new business opportunities, a boom of electric cars is almost foreseeable. In fact, the industry doesn’t lack in visionary ideas: Electric cars could feed electricity back into smart grids, receive electricity via induction while driving on the street and be much more efficient than biofuels.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the additional electricity for electric cars must come from renewable energy sources or otherwise the saved emissions would only be insignificant compared to fuel-efficient traditional cars. Moreover, the infrastructure both in terms of battery charging/changing stations as well as smart grids has to be built in order to provide a comprehensive electric vehicle services solution.
In the face of several pilot projects currently being implemented around the world, a representative from Siemens Energy at the Austrian Sustainable Mobility event thought that electric cars could penetrate the automobile market in 2015-19 and could become a mass market from 2020 onward. Nevertheless, several questions remain, for instance if there is enough lithium for a large-scale battery production for electric vehicles around the world.
Moreover, I recently read an interesting article on the future of transportation by Shai Agassi from Better Place where he suggested that electromobility service providers might adopt the business model of mobile phone operators. In fact, representatives from Siemens Energy and the Austrian Climate and Energy Fund also mentioned those opportunities for completely new business models for services providers at the Austrian Sustainable Mobility event. It means that you could buy a cheap electric car from your service provider with a monthly flat rate tariff for battery charging and other services.
So, I ask myself if this would also foster a throw-away mentality like in the area of mobile phones so that consumerism forces you to buy a new electric car every two or three years. Moreover, we should ask ourselves about the effects of more traffic due to lower fuel costs with regards to a further loss of public space, higher maintenance costs for streets and other possible externalities that the whole society would have to bear.
Taking these questions into mind and knowing that traffic is the biggest source of CO2 emissions, I think that electromobility might definitely contribute to a reduction in CO2 emissions but it is clear that electric cars alone won’t enable us to make the necessary big step towards the low-carbon society of the future.
Note: This blogpost was also published on the TH!NK ABOUT IT website.