Discover How Electrified Cities Will Look, Sound and Function

Imagine walking the streets of an active, urban metropolis. But instead of your ears filling with noisy traffic and smelling the scent of fumes, you stroll quieter roads that are less congested with fewer cars. You inhale fresher, cleaner air. The good news is that this could all happen. This scenario is an imminent possibility, thanks to transportation electrification, which is already having a fascinating impact on the landscapes of cities around the world. And there is much more to come. Urban centers that are wired, digitized and optimized for this new era will look and function differently than they do today, leveraging an underlying digital ecosystem to function at peak efficiency.

The explosion of ride sharing, the advent of connected and autonomous vehicles and the increasing pressure to create low carbon emission zones has prompted a big rethink of mobility. We are reconsidering how citizens access, pay for and use efficient transport. And it will likely be a similar path forward to the electrified future.

There are myriad benefits to transportation electrification. First, EVs send fewer carbon emissions into the air than combustion from fossil fuels, so there are potential clean-air improvements. And through job creation, there may be new revenue streams and business models for cities and states, even as gas-tax revenues ultimately decrease. But to make it all a reality, a progressive, conscientious approach to preparation is mandatory. We need to plan, coordinate and collaborate so that tomorrow’s new technologies don’t happen to cities but rather for them. And when it comes to transportation electrification, these new considerations extend to how our cities are designed and how they function.

New streetscapes around the world

All around the world, cities are moving toward a future of emissions-free transportation in city centers. Seattle and Los Angeles, for example, are two American cities that have signed the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration alongside Auckland, Barcelona, Cape Town, Copenhagen, London, Milan, Mexico City, Paris, Quito and Vancouver. They are pledging to procure only zero-emissions buses starting in 2025 and ensuring a major area of each city is zero-emissions by 2030.

Madrid will soon ban non-resident vehicles from driving anywhere in the city center. Only local cars, zero-emissions delivery vehicles, taxis and public transit will gain entry. Planners are also redesigning 24 streets for walking rather than driving.

Oslo plans to ban all cars from its city center by 2019.

Paris plans to double its bike lanes and limit select streets to electric cars by 2020.

London discourages the use of diesel engines by charging the equivalent of a $12.50 daily fee to diesel drivers during peak hours. In 2017, Britain decided to ban sales of new diesel and gas cars by 2040.

It’s all evidence that the future for privately owned gas-burning cars in city centers worldwide looks like it will be changing dramatically. “We’re going to see all sorts of electric vehicles, including buses, ride share cars, autonomous vehicles, light rail, motorbikes, and scooters,” said Lisa Wood, Vice President of Customer Solutions at the Edison Electric Institute. “And at every intersection: smart, sensor-driven traffic signals that tap into real-time analytics to keep traffic moving smoothly.”

And beyond the city center, highways of the future will include railroad-style overhead electric wires that will power large zero-carbon emissions trucks, a breakthrough that will extend noise and pollution reduction to the regional level.

Electrifying our highways

It’s one of transportation electrification’s most exciting prospects: combining the efficiency of electrified railroads with the automotive muscle of trucks into an innovative freight traffic solution that’s efficient, economical and environmentally friendly. It’s an eHighway, and Siemens, the energy technology company, has prototyped it in several locations, including a project in Southern California. The company is also preparing to open a live route in Germany at the end of 2018.

The Southern Califoria route powered trucks with electricity delivered through overhead wiring on a one-mile stretch of public road near the region’s container ports. Heavily-used truck routes—like the vast network of highways that link the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to distribution centers throughout the region—are ideal candidates for electrification. Imagine the big rigs that are critical to making sure goods get to distribution centers and eventually into the hands of consumers using fewer energy resources and making less noise with reduced environmental impact.

Here’s how an eHighway works:

Like a railway, an eHighway has a two-pole catenary system that ensures a reliable energy supply for the eHighway truck. The catenary system leads to a level contact wire that enables stable current transmission, even at high speeds.

A pantograph atop the truck transmits the energy from the overhead lines to the electric motor of the truck. The pantograph can be easily connected to and disconnected from the contact wire at speeds ranging from zero to about 55mph, either automatically or manually with the push of a button.

Steering an eHighway truck connected to the overhead lines is no different than driving a regular truck, since the pantograph compensates for any shifts in lane position. It automatically disconnects in the event of evasive maneuvers or the driver signaling a lane change.

On non-electrified sections of the route, the eHighway truck can use several types of hybrid power, including serial and parallel operation with internal combustion engines, battery solutions or fuel cells. The electric motors of the trucks also enable recovery of the vehicle’s braking energy to make them even more efficient.

The eHighway concept can be integrated into existing road infrastructures without significant effort and combines the efficiency of electrified railroads with the flexibility of trucks, halving energy consumption while maintaining full mobility.

A meeting of the minds

Turning these urban design hypotheticals into realities will require intense collaboration among city, state and federal agencies, utilities, and the private sector. New lines of communication between these stakeholders will have to open as localities strive to modernize their grids, increase their electricity supply and then regulate and distribute it in a way that helps meet the city’s goals.

The municipalities that thrive in the era of transportation electrification will be the ones that fundamentally change how they operate. Examples abound, from light rail expansion projects in Denver, Seattle, Phoenix and Los Angeles to data-driven bus route redesigns in Houston to the eight-mile Cultural Trail connecting neighborhoods (and raising property values) in Indianapolis.

Growing pains are inevitable as new sets of collaborators come together, but the potential wins in urban innovation, reliable energy sources and economic opportunity are worth the effort, especially as cities around the world join the sustainability race to attract global businesses. “In a way, it’s like the planning and building that took place in the early days of the internet, but with lots of moving targets that make it even more complicated,” said David Armour, Siemens City Executive. “We need everyone on board now, or we risk getting it wrong from the start.”

A new grid for a new era

A single EV charge could consume as much energy as a refrigerator does in six weeks

It’s no secret that transportation electrification requires electricity, and a lot of it. In fact, MIT Technology Review noted that adding a single electric car to the grid is roughly equivalent to adding three houses. Put another way, a single car charge could consume as much energy as a refrigerator does in six weeks. Nothing short of major upgrades to power grids will ensure this new surge in demand is met. If not, outages will become the new gridlock, and the goal of making cities run more smoothly won’t be met.

Grid modernization will take time, but no one can argue against the need. “In the U.S., we must find the will to invest in our infrastructure,” said John DeBoer, Director of Transportation Electrification for North America at Siemens. “With transportation electrification on the horizon, utilities are exploring all sorts of enabling technologies. Once better battery-based energy storage systems become more prevalent, it will be easier and more cost-efficient to bring more renewable energy like solar and wind online. Slowly but surely—it may take a decade—the puzzle pieces will fall into place. None of this will flip on like a light switch, but the technology pace is accelerating, and we must plan, construct and manage our way to the modernized grid we need.”

“Look around your city, and spot anything that’s moving either people or goods. Within 10 years it will be electrified, and not because the government dictates it. Transportation electrification is an economic choice being made by vehicle manufacturers and consumers. Savvy cities will recognize these trends and install the right open standards-based infrastructure to provide convenient charging experiences for all segments of transport. That’s the kind of environment that will attract new businesses.”

— John DeBoer, Director of Transportation Electrification for North America at Siemens

At Siemens, top experts and groundbreaking technology are keeping the U.S. in the fast lane of innovation.

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