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What’s on the Road Ahead for Smart Transport?

Tue, 15 March 2016

Why now is the best time to be an innovator in low-carbon transport, contributed by Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership
Against the backdrop of an unprecedented global agreement between nearly 200 countries to tackle climate change and the dramatic advances in energy, communications and automotive technology, I doubt that there has ever been a more important – or more exciting – time to be an innovator or entrepreneur in the area of low-carbon transport.
Markets for low-carbon, low emission vehicles and fuels are opening up in the UK and all over the world. Indeed, speaking to a select committee recently in the House of Commons the Cabinet Office Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin, described the move to low and zero-emission vehicles as "a colossal opportunity for Britain to play a leading part in an industrial revolution".

Not so long ago the UK automotive sector was in a state of decline, factory closures were commonplace, innovation levels were modest and the UK supply chain had become ‘hollowed out’. But from a low point in 2006, when less than £0.5bn was invested in low carbon road transport, investment has burgeoned and was over £15bn in 2013 (the latest figure available).

From being an industrial problem area, the UK’s automotive sector has become one of the brightest stars in the country’s economic landscape. With government and industry working effectively together to provide a stable and supportive framework, many bright innovators have seen the massive potential and grasped the opportunity to bring forward new ideas to drive low carbon development.

Growing concerns about air quality in some of our most polluted urban areas have added to the drive already created by the threat of climate change for the introduction of cleaner, more efficient transport options, particularly in cities. Electric vehicles have been one of the key technologies to emerge and are becoming an increasingly common sight. With battery costs falling – driven by innovation and scale production – electric vehicles are projected to become cost competitive with conventional vehicles within the next decade and without the range limitations that have restricted the potential of earlier models.

Dramatic falls in the cost of energy storage – in which EVs themselves may play a part – provide the opportunity for a transformation of our energy system in which new, renewable technologies are sure to play a bigger and bigger role.

Advances in information technology – such as the use of smartphone apps – are changing the way we view mobility services (just look at the dramatic rise of Uber!) and there are also huge opportunities for entrepreneurs working in this space. Some people envisage a future where we no longer have a car parked outside our house but will signal from our smart phone to an autonomous, low emission vehicle which will come to collect us from a convenient place and transport us quietly, cleanly and safely to wherever we want to go. That could also leave our residential streets as places for shared relaxation; with lawns and trees where children can play in car-free safety.

Opportunities exist across the complete transport spectrum, from making lower carbon energy and fuels to use in new and novel vehicle configurations, with accompanying creative mobility solutions to utilise these most efficiently.

Technology can help create the conditions and tools where this kind of utopian vision is possible, but it will take focused innovators and determined entrepreneurs to deliver it. I hope some of the readers of this and other blogs will heed this message and indeed help to ‘Make the Future’ and make it low-carbon.

About Neil Wallis (Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership)
Neil is responsible for LowCVP's communications activities including all publications, the monthly e-newsletter and the website. He also manages the Partnership's own events, including the annual conference and party conference activities, and agrees participation in third-party initiatives. Neil is responsible for media and Parliamentary communications and also for the Secretariat's information management.

Neil has worked in both the public and private sectors in a variety of policy, public affairs, business development and communications roles. After 7 years with the energy company, Texaco, and a two-year assignment as a VSO volunteer, Neil joined the Energy Saving Trust's nascent transport programmes division. He has a degree in Economics and Politics, a Masters in Business Administration and a Postgraduate Certificate in Journalism. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
You can follow LowCVP on Twitter at @theLowCVP


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