Location: The Building Centre, London
Date: Thursday 28 September 2017
Robert Llewelyn – Actor, broadcaster and founder of Fully Charged
Christophe Egret – Founding Partner, Studio Egret West
Catherine Hutt – Director, EQ + iQ
Duncan Price – Director of Sustainability, BuroHappold Engineering
Tom Callow – Director of Communication and Strategy, Chargemaster
The UK Government has announced that in just over 20 years there will be no more new fossil fuel vehicles on the market. This Conversation event discussed the implications of this move. For example, how should we adapt our cities to function with electric vehicles (EVs), and what are the implications for architecture and infrastructure?
Although other types of low emission vehicles are in development, this Conversation assumed EVs are the leading technology to replace fossil fuel vehicles. We also sought to leave Mobility as a Service (MAAS) and Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) out of the discussion but – particularly with regard to architectural implications – some consideration of these developments is needed to see the implications for the built environment. Gavin Thompson, Chairman of the Happold Foundation, reports on the findings of the Conversation.
The attractions of electric vehicles (EVs) in the city are manifold. These include lower emissions and cleaner air, quieter streets (and therefore less need to seal buildings) and the consequent benefit to demand management through vehicle to grid connection. There may even be the potential to reclaim the estimated 20+% of the city given over to vehicles.
Panelist Robert Llewellyn is an actor, writer, broadcaster and more recently electric vehicle and renewable energy enthusiast. For the last seven years he has been producing and presenting an online series called Fully Charged, exploring the world of electric vehicles, sustainable technology and the future of energy. He sees EVs as being essential to a sustainable future where we can live in a civilised society without destroying the small planet we all rely on.
During the Conversation he detailed his view that the world of energy and transport is changing at ever increasing velocity. Much of the new technology emerging is disruptive of established industries. The change is going to be difficult, fraught with mishaps and wrong turnings but it is now beyond question that these changes are coming.
Transport consultant Catherine Hutt holds a similar view. She joined the Automotive industry 10 years ago and specialises in how new technology, consumer trends and new business models will impact the industry. Her experience includes working for a start-up electric vehicle manufacturer (Modec), leading the industry-government debate around EV market development (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) and advising public and private sector organisations on the future of the automotive industry. Despite being born in Coventry, the UK automotive heartland, and being passionate about the industry, Catherine hasn’t owned a car since 2010. She is a proud millennial ‘mobility user’ and is keen to explore why and when others may be persuaded to do the same.
Many people, she detailed, have already bought their last internal combustion engine, and possibly even their last car. New technologies, consumer behaviour and policy are all aligning to accelerate the change towards electric vehicles and drive the shift from ownership to ‘usership’. It’s simply a matter of time before the automotive industry we grew up with will be unrecognisable. The last decade has seen a monumental leap forward in electric vehicle technology and market growth. What we need to prepare for now, is the shift which will inevitably take place in the next 10 years.
Christophe Egret is founding partner of architecture and urban design practice Studio Egret West. This is a dynamic cross platform workshop where architecture and urban design are not seen as separate skills, but reunited to create a unique working environment where city and building speak to each other. It is therefore inevitable that Christophe see the urban environment as a place where designers need to be imagining the future without fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Better air quality and soundscapes are a necessity but what can we be doing with the extra space that new modes of transport might bring. As a building designer he imagines a symbiotic world of building and vehicle more closely linked by the umbilical charging cable and the shared use of the music system and seats for example. But does this vision contradict the seemingly inexorable move towards a ‘sharing’ economy.
Duncan Price, Director of Sustainability at BuroHappold Engineering, thinks we still have some work to do in the sharing economy. Lack of reliability due to poor maintenance or selfish behavior by other users can make the car share experience a poor relation to the private-ownership ‘total control’ model.
Christophe and Duncan joined with other designers in the audience to speculate on how architecture and city planning may need to adapt for the era of EVs.
Tom Callow is Director of Communication and Strategy for the UK’s largest vehicle charging outfit, Chargemaster. He is responsible for raising the profile of the business among its stakeholders, including the media, car manufacturers, government, energy providers and leasing companies. Tom is also responsible for research and looking at the evolving dynamics of the market, to help inform the company’s strategy. In his view electric vehicles and their associated infrastructure present a great opportunity for cities, both socially and economically. Beyond the obvious reductions to air and noise pollution, charging infrastructure in the public domain is important for enabling electric mobility. Developing the infrastructure for electric vehicles within cities will help urban areas to flourish, and will play a key role in balancing the demands on the grid.
Asset utilisation will probably be the driving factor – amongst a raft of other positive influences – that will drive the rate of change towards electric vehicles. Have we all bought our last petrol or diesel vehicle? A show of hands in the audience for the event had around 50% owning their own vehicle. Only about 5% of these were electric vehicles. However a more telling statistic may be that the percentage of young people in the audience owning a vehicle was much smaller, an indication of the trend towards ‘using when needed’ rather than ‘owning and using intermittently’.
It can be confidently concluded that the era of cars and private ownership of cars in cities is drawing to a close. It may be the developing economies that will have a greater influence on this. Never mind about the perceived lithium shortage – there is simply not enough steel, rubber and other standard materials that make cars, to provide electric vehicles for the growing affluent city populations in developing countries.
The rate of change may be faster than we think. The main thing that is holding things back is the supply of green charging infrastructure. Will we need ten extra power stations to supply the growing demand? Or will the natural growth of renewables match the increasing demand?
The changing of the city
As the technological change is moving so fast we need to act, and inevitably there may be a few blind alleys. Despite the, often erroneous, worries about ‘range anxiety’ as a result of battery storage, decisions about charging infrastructure are already being made and implemented. Policy too on such issues as standardising the charging infrastructure to counteract the ‘patchwork’ regulatory environment will help things to progress. But this revolution in transport goes much deeper into the lives of citizens and the opportunities are potentially much greater. There was a frustration in parts of our audience that we did not apply enough of our visionary conversation to the other side of mobility in the city – public transport. Is this where the greatest gains are to be made and also the largest need for improvement and investment?
From an urban planning and architectural point of view, professionals are starting to grasp the issues but not yet coming to a conclusion on design outcomes. These are exciting times for urban planners if they can leverage the benefits that will come from the reduction in privately owned vehicles in the city and the release of space that may ensue. The prospect of EVs is a tantalising step forward for the urban environment: coupled with autonomous technologies – perhaps the main driver of the shift away from private ownership – the vision is even more seductive. Should we also be asking how we can avoid ‘business as usual’ gridlock?