Saturday, September 7, 2013

Future Mobility

Inspired by the Insecta urban car concept presented by Moovee Innovations at UBC

and following some of my previous posts on high-speed rail, as well as on future marine and air mobility I decided to descend back to Earth and check out what is in store for the near future urban commuters. I discovered - no surprise - that the work has been done for me by Inspiration Green.

Over the past few years a serious buzz has built over the electric car. The high-profile marketing and release of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf in the United States has prompted much of this attention while the mainstream press in Canada and the United States has been scrutinizing these products in  reports and editorials. Every car show around the world is featuring electric vehicles, and it seems that they could become the next big thing in personal mobility.
Electric propulsion of automobiles has been around for over 100 years, so why are electric vehicles only now making a serious run at the buying public?
One answer is that automobiles have become one of the most pervasive symbols of the fossil fuel economy that is devastating the natural environment. Cars have therefore become a regular focal point in environmental debates about “what is to be done” about green house gas emissions and climate change, issues that have now entered into mainstream consciousness.

A sense of urgency exists that action needs be taken by individuals, institutions and corporations in order to curb emissions. This has created a system where material objects are either perceived as friendly to the environment or damaging. The automobile industry is racing to capitalize on this notion with electric cars leading the way as the number one “green” solution.
In the United States, the confidence in electric cars shown by the traditional auto manufacturers is driven in part by President Barack Obama’s plan to help build the clean energy economy, which is seen by the administration as a key to the country’s competitiveness in the 21st century. The U.S. government has already invested US$5 billion to stimulate an industry and market for electric cars.

Ottawa, on the other hand, has yet to earmark significant funds to this industry, thereby leaving the country in a chicken-and-egg situation: without the government funds to foster an electric car industry and stimulate a market plus help develop the infrastructure to serve it [e.g. charging infrastructure], electric vehicles may not emerge as a viable option. In the event that electric cars come into general use, Canada’s well-established automotive sector — a major employer — could be adversely impacted if not properly prepared. More action by the Federal government to support this sector will be needed, or Canada could be left behind other auto-producing centres.
But should Canadian tax money be used to stimulate a burgeoning electric car industry, or would government funds be more successful in reducing emissions if they went to developing more accessible public transportation or create more and safer bicycle lanes like it has been done in Vancouver?
At first glance, zero emissions cars look like real solutions to stopping growing carbon emissions in a society and culture that is obsessed with cars as a prime form of transport. At this point we really do not have a lot of choice. In reality, however, the answer is much more complex and depends on whether one explores the collective versus the individual benefits of this technology, or, in other words, what overall impact the modest adoption of electric vehicles will have on cutting tail pipe emissions.

Also, depending on where you charge you electric vehicle, pollution could simply move upstream from the tailpipe to the coal-fired power generator. Another factor is that large amounts of lithium will be needed to power electric motors representing a horizontal shift in reliance from one extractive industry, oil, to another — lithium. And simply “greening” the automobile will do nothing to curb the destruction caused by roads, parking lots and traffic congestion.

Alone they are not a real solution, but viewed as part of an overall national strategy, the electric car, together with high-performance buildings and evolutionary transition to renewable sources of energy, could play a pivotal role in weaning society off of its reliance on fossil fuels.

Aptera electric car

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