Bye-bye, Big Smoke

By Nadia Crandall.

We know it too well: the smog that sits heavy on the city, readily visible from Primrose Hill; the tightness in our throat and lungs; the asthmatic coughs. Air pollution affects us all. And most pollution in London is caused by road traffic.

Matthew Bradfield is one man working to create a cleaner world. He is a young entrepreneur with a passion for making positive change. After working in the US on sustainable technologies his new company, Future Mobility Consulting, provides solutions for electric vehicle fleets and clean transport infrastructure.

When I met him, he was bouncing out of his seat as he spoke about the huge opportunities in the sustainable transport and mobility sector, and the changes he anticipates within a few years.

Matthew Bradfield

I asked him why there are still so few electric vehicle charging points in Camden?

He tells me it is difficult and expensive to create a charging network. Regulations and revenue models are just beginning to evolve into systems that are fit for purpose. The transport and mobility sector is so dynamic that legislators can’t keep up.

Camden, grappling with central government cuts, struggles to balance the budget. It needs to prioritise social welfare and is understandably cautious about committing scarce funds to infrastructure in a rapidly evolving sector.

I asked how electric vehicle charging points should best be positioned. Most Camden residents don’t have driveways and our environment is already cluttered with street furniture.

Matthew explains that charging point strategy tends to locate them in city centres and in outer boroughs, where there is more space. That way, electric vehicles have sufficient charge for two-way journeys. Inner boroughs like Camden can miss out.

Finally I asked why we don’t use more lamp posts to power electric vehicles. Apparently available power from lamp posts is insufficient. Although it can be used for top-ups, a full charge for most electric vehicles would take 12 hours. For a reasonable charging time of 5 hours, a much larger power supply would be needed.

These problems are already being superseded by rapid advances in technology. Matthew believes that our streetscape will be vastly altered within the next ten years.

Advances come from many directions. The costs of vehicle charging infrastructure are being streamlined, as traditional power businesses increasingly turn their attention to clean energy. Shell, BP and EDF are all either in the charging business, or partnering with charging networks. These large power companies are transforming themselves into utilities, overseeing the entire infrastructure of energy supply and storage.

New locations are being found for vehicle charging points. Small businesses with spare parking capacity, like pubs, are happy to lease spaces. And in time, charging points will become less obtrusive. There are already pop-up charge points that operate on a drive-over model and are flush with the pavement when not in use.

Revenue models are changing too. Remember the early days when it was free to charge an electric vehicle? Subsidies for charging points are still available through OLEV (the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles), but these are being reined in and will soon disappear. As charging fees become standard, Matthew believes that they may rise to £1 per kilowatt hour, which will still save the electric vehicle user about 70% of conventional fuel cost.

Batteries are becoming more efficient. Clean, long-lasting solid state batteries are likely to be in commercial production within the next five years, with Japanese firms like Toshiba and Panasonic leading the way. And we can recycle EV batteries. After their use in electric vehicles has expired, they retain sufficient charge to be deployed in home storage. So we will generate and manage more power locally, reducing the need for expensive grid management from central power stations.

Fleet vehicles are switching away from diesel fuel. This is true for Veolia, our waste collection company in Camden, and also for UPS. About one-third of London buses are either hybrid or fully electric. Under the new ULEZ rules (ultra-low emission zones), fleets that switch their diesel for electric vehicles will save approximately £5,000 per vehicle per year. And each of these electric fleet vehicles removes the equivalent of 33 conventional car emissions from the road.

The whole concept of car ownership is undergoing radical change. Many of us choose car-share clubs over car ownership, as a less expensive and greener alternative. Major car companies have taken notice. Daimler, BMW and Avis have all made large investments in this sector.

Soon we will see driverless vehicles on our roads. They are technically viable, though regulation may take time. Matthew foresees a radical change in vehicle design, away from an unmanned steering wheel – people find this unnerving – and towards a pod design. We’ll notice this first with commercial and delivery vehicles; and in time autonomous ‘pods’ will become the norm for all of us.

London as a National Park City is coming soon. So bye-bye, Big Smoke!

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