Kaushik Burman, VP Strategy | International Expansion, Gogoro
Climate risk and resilience have been the focus of scientific assessments for the past two decades – IPCC SR Ocean & Cryosphere report has done extensive modeling on the historical changes in the ocean and cryosphere since 1950, and projected future changes under low (RCP2.6) and high (RCP8.5) greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios that include time series of emissions and concentrations of the full suite of GHGs and Aerosols, including chemically active gases, as well as land use / land cover.
RCP2.6 represents a low greenhouse gas emission, high mitigation future, that in CMIP5 simulations gives a two in three chance of limiting global warming to below 2°C by 2100. By contrast, RCP8.5 is a high greenhouse gas emission scenario in the absence of policies to combat climate change, leading to continued and sustained growth in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, leading to an increase of up to 5.2°C – to contextualize, as of 2017, we were already at 1.1°C. At this unprecedented rate of melting of the glaciers, sea levels are bound to rise, and forecasts lead to a 1-2 meters increase in the sea levels. It bodes a scary future, as cities, ranging from smaller sizes (population 1-2 million) to megacities (population > 10 million) will be at the biggest risk of rising sea levels -- with over 60 cities at risk, globally, at current levels. Infrastructure investments to the tune of trillions of dollars into roads, homes and commercial establishments, warehouses would be at risk of inundation, displacing millions of people from their livelihood.
Transportation contributes to as high as 30% of total emissions, and on-road mobility of both goods and people is a significant portion of the emissions landscape -- hence abatement is a critical imperative, if we want our urban ecosystem to thrive. I share a few observations on key trends which have high potential to decarbonize the transport segment.
Environmental benefits from Asset Sharing > Asset Ownership
A paradigm shift has already taken place in the previous decade, with the advent of ride hailing service providers. Leveraging technology in creating scalable platforms to provide on-demand mobility has created new value pools and a sustained value delivery process to consumers, driver partners. While ride hailing has encouraged people to substitute individual vehicle ownership with vehicle sharing, aggregate vehicle miles travelled (VMT) has increased manifold times. Which implies that more cars on the road, leading to higher congestion, and higher GHG emissions. Hence ride hailing in isolation will not help in reducing the carbon footprint. Ride hailing entities need to push harder on “pooling”, where for every trip, the routing algorithms optimize mobility of both goods and people. Asset “pooling” models enables fewer vehicles on road, lower per capita GHG emissions, and lower energy intensity. Accelerated adoption of pooling requires a mindset shift aided by higher awareness and adherence to safety standards by driver partners. “Think of the last time, you hailed a cab - could you have planned better to have pooled the ride along with a stranger? Or what would take you to pool a bike, scooter or a cab, everytime you press the “book” button on the app?”
Mosaic of cleantech options required to decarbonize urban transportation
E-mobility is a front runner with lower tailpipe emissions -- while there is no silver bullet to solve the pressing issue of decarbonization of the transport sector, e-mobility has lower tailpipe emissions, from a lifecycle emissions standpoint, while the upstream value chain is energy intensive (extraction of rare earths from mines, refining and energy intensive supply chain to manufacture batteries). Hence each country within a region, with its specific set of strengths, availability of resources will need to develop policies which benefit its people and the environment.
In the new world of on-demand menu of options, ranging from food & beverages, e-commerce & logistics is leading to an unprecedented surge in peak traffic flows across cities. In addition, the average duration of peak traffic hours have increased by 1.5-2x -- therefore to foster adoption of e-mobility will require innovative solutions such as battery swapping to meet demand, as both AC and DC charging will be time consuming and the latter is expensive as well. Specific to two and three wheelers, battery swapping works particularly well in dense urban areas, where there is limited real estate to create physical infrastructure for AC/DC chargers. Underutilized real estate in shopping malls, gas stations, retail hypermarkets and parking areas can be used to create battery swapping infrastructure. There are prevailing concerns around high reserve ratios of batteries but that is only for the initial few months to allay concerns on “range anxiety” in consumer’s minds. As the swapping station network expands, range anxiety issues abate gradually and reserve ratios of spare batteries decline. However, it is imperative to create effective policies to encourage private investments in swapping infrastructure, as it requires deep and patient capital, which will eventually lead to surge in EV adoption.
Transit oriented development (TOD) model is evolving at a rapid pace, and is highly recommended for smart city infrastructure development, where the primary goal is to diversify our transportation options, revitalise the city landscape by providing more free space to people, optimize their journeys better by providing access to multi-modal transportation choices -- with public transit at the heart of urban design. Over 60% of the trips made in major metros are less than 3 km (2 miles) and almost all of these are by cars, SUVs. By applying TOD models, smart city planning could embed first and last mile transportation as diverse vehicle form factors in (bicycles, two,three and four wheelers) on sharing platforms and with the help of API interfaces, these platforms would connect seamlessly with the MRT & Public transit corridors. By having docked parking stations adjacent to MRT stations, could provide the last mile commuting far easier and near zero carbon footprint at a fraction of costs of individual car ownership.
The climate emergency challenge is a complex problem, with interdependency on multiple SDG goals -- response to solve this challenge requires an integrated and design thinking approach,aided by robust policy design by effective dialogue with city planners, consumers and businesses. Disruptive innovation challenging the incumbent mobility models can yield sustained environmental benefits and a thriving planetary ecosystem.