Electric Vehicles for Smarter Cities: The Future of Energy and Mobility

WEF-report-electric-vehicle-cover Mobility is going to change rapidly in the coming years as electric vehicles (EV) proliferate, ride sharing continues to grow, and eventually autonomous vehicles (AV) enter urban fleets. This is especially true in cities where new forms of mobility are concentrated and where investment in supporting infrastructure is needed to accommodate this growth. These changes coincide with the evolution towards cleaner, more decentralized and digitalized energy systems and services, and increasing electrification.

Today, public- and private-sector stakeholders deploy policy, infrastructure and business models based largely on current patterns of mobility and vehicle ownership. The uptake of privately owned EVs is encouraged, while business models for charging stations vary, as they are deployed or operated by a range of players—public agencies, car manufacturers, energy companies and pure players. Limited interoperability and digitalization of infrastructure can make broad customer engagement challenging. Outside the energy sector, awareness of energy-related issues is low. Mobility integration with electricity system and grid edge technologies is emerging. As a consequence, EV charging could create local constraints and stability problems on power networks and reduce the environmental benefits of electrification.


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There is an opportunity to design a different future, and reap both environmental and economic benefits with a call to action around the following three principles to be acted upon:

1. Take a multistakeholder and market-specific approach. First and foremost, a market-specific approach that considers all relevant stakeholders should be applied to new mobility patterns with smarter and cleaner energy systems. Energy, mobility and infrastructure enterprises, along with policy-makers, regulators and urban planners, can collectively define a new paradigm for cities. The paradigm would go beyond today's industry divisions in search of complementary municipal, regional and national policies.

The investment and infrastructure to support electric mobility will vary significantly from one place to another, thus any approach needs to be market specific. Local stakeholders should plan for electrification while taking into account local characteristics, especially: urban infrastructure and design, the energy system and the culture and patterns of mobility.

2. Prioritize high-use vehicles. The focus should be on electrifying fleets, taxis, mobility-as-a-service vehicles and public transport, which will have a greater impact as these represent a higher volume of miles travelled. Although personal-use vehicles will likely remain a significant portion of the vehicle stock for many years, they are on the road less than 5% of the time, representing a low volume of overall miles driven.

3. Deploy critical charging infrastructure today while anticipating the transformation of mobility. To keep pace with growing demand and to address range-anxiety issues, charging infrastructure is needed, especially along highways, at destination points, and close to public transport hubs. To minimize the risk of stranded investments, future mobility and vehicle ownership patterns should be considered, as some current charging locations (i.e. in apartment buildings, at parking meters along city streets) may not be needed in the future. The infrastructure should be deployed in combination with grid edge technologies—such as decentralized generation, storage, microgrids and smart buildings—and integrated into smart grids, to fully exploit the flexibility of EVs while enabling the stability of the energy system. Digitalization would help simplify and enhance the customer experience, support efficient infrastructure deployment and management as well as enable new services associated with electric, shared and autonomous mobility. Charging stations can become hubs for smart-city services.

These recommendations will create value in three dimensions:

  • Environment. As the share of miles driven by EVs increases, urban mobility emissions will decrease progressively; electrification combined with a clean energy mix and optimized charging patterns will further reduce emissions, improving air quality and benefiting human health, with a much-decreased ecological footprint.
  • Energy. EVs are a relevant decentralized energy resource (DER), providing a new controllable electricity demand, storage capacity and electricity supply when fully integrated with grid edge technologies and smart grids. Smart charging will create more flexibility in the energy system, improving stability and optimizing peak-capacity investments. Fleets of electric and, later, AVs can amplify the potential of smart charging, through the aggregation of multiple vehicles and higher control of load profiles. This will also open the door to broader energy efficiency services.
  • Mobility. EVs will become more affordable than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) as the cost of batteries declines. Smart-charging services will reduce charging costs (for example, by charging when energy prices are low, if dynamic pricing is implemented), and new revenue streams for fleet operators, who will be able to provide ancillary services to energy markets. In the future, AVs will also cost significantly less per mile than personal-use ICEs, by as much as 40% and could also reduce congestion and traffic incidents.

This report provides recommendations based on case studies and interviews with a wide range of leaders and experts from energy and mobility industries, civil society, academia, city councils and national governments.

Working together, public and private stakeholders can adapt these principles to optimally converge mobility and energy, and to enable cities to better meet climate goals, support energy efficiency, foster innovation of services and infrastructure, and generate economic growth, ultimately providing great benefits to citizens.

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