How can connected and automated vehicles contribute to the net zero agenda?
Author: Members of the Midlands Future Mobility (MFM)
The Committee on Climate Change recommended a new emissions target for net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050, an ambitious target which UK government has pledged to achieve. Road transport is still one of the leading contributors to air pollution and the sector has a lot of work to do to reduce its impact on the environment.
Electrification is high on the agenda for achieving net zero, but a recent report by Transport for Quality of Life claims 80% of the CO2 savings from clean cars could be negated by £27bn plans for infrastructure. Moreover, electric cars could contribute to local air pollution through particles eroding from brakes and tyres.
It is clear that to truly achieve net zero, we need to avoid more cars being introduced to the road, stop unnecessary travel, reduce the impact of the journeys we make, and limit the amount of construction-heavy infrastructure we put in place – can a connected and automated transport system in the UK help to achieve this?
Prof Paul Jennings, Head of Intelligent Vehicles at WMG gives an overview “If you automate the driving function, you remove people’s variability in driving style, and could potentially optimise energy usage over every individual journey. Through use of historic and shared data, the route and mode choice of journeys could also be optimised, which will be especially important for movement of goods. In the future, intelligent features could also lead to better utilisation of vehicles through types of shared mobility, and a reduction in the need for construction-heavy infrastructure like car parks. However, our primary aim through automation is improved safety and a reduction in accidents which, as well as reducing the human cost, will also have positive economic and environmental impacts”
Jo White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England adds to the point regarding reduced infrastructure “The ability to manage traffic flow on our road networks through CAM, will ultimately reduce the amount of infrastructure required. The less concrete we produce for parking spaces, widening of roads, creating bridges and underpasses etc, the fewer emissions we create and the more green spaces we protect.”
Mike Waters, Director of Policy, Strategy and Innovation at Transport for West Midlands agrees “Not only will CAM reduce the amount of additional construction-heavy infrastructure required but shared data will allow us to better manage the maintenance of the infrastructure we do have, hopefully meaning prevention of damage and predictive maintenance, rather than repeated tarmacking and pothole filling.”
Lara Young, group carbon manager at Costain points out that CAM, for both personal and professional travel, could allow consumers to make more truly sustainable choices. “By giving people clear and simple data on how their choice of travel impacts their emissions footprint, we can shift the entire travel business model to incentivise. For example CAM could help shape a personal carbon tax mode, a carbon credit system or a road pricing system based wholly or partially on the individuals actual travel emissions. CAM could have a huge influence on bringing our values to life by enabling us to judge the best journey for us not on time or cost, but also on the environmental impact of our journey.”
When considering the benefits of CAM on the environment, we also need to be wary of the potential down sides. As Nikhil Eswaran, Project Manager at AVL points out “Automation will open up the possibility of traveling by car to those who are currently not able to drive, which whilst beneficial, also potentially puts more cars on the roads.”
John Fox, Programme Director of Midlands Future Mobility also adds “smoother and more productive journeys, could lead to more people taking more frequent longer journeys leading to more emissions and congestion, without holistic policy changes to control this risk.”
Lara agreed, and added that “it is the not the number or length of journeys, but the impact of the journeys that are crucially important, including emissions.” Shared mobility will be vital, as will low-emission vehicles and choosing the mode of travel, for the right journeys, at the best time of day.
Another point to consider when discussing CAM’s contribution to low emissions, is the amount of energy the connected and automated device itself might use. Nikhil comments “certain on-board systems with high power consumption can reduce the range on electric vehicles, directly impacting the net zero agenda.”
However, Nikhil also makes the point “features within vehicles can also improve energy efficiency of travel. The technology already exists for cars to use GPS mapping to forward assess the upcoming road landscape, taking into account traffic conditions, to optimise vehicle speed and on-board systems. Connected cars could also automatically shift operating mode when entering low emissions zones, for example a hybrid car could shift from internal combustion to battery power.”
Consistent policies across infrastructure, communications and vehicles will be needed to allow CAM to reach its full potential in reducing emissions. Introducing tax which reflects the number and type of journeys made through an effective form of road pricing, rather than an upfront one year road tax, would increase the apparent incremental cost of car use, and make using public transport clearly cost saving to consumers. The necessity for many trips has already been questioned by our experiences during COVID-19 lockdown. Ultimately in the future people should be empowered with the information to assess the impact of their journeys, and the ability to interact remotely in order to allow fewer trips to be made. Where the trip is still required, people should be armed with the information to know what the most efficient way to travel is, and be incentivised to choose it.
Mike also adds “Freight and logistics is an area which could significantly benefit from CAM. Currently 34.5% of UK GHG emissions from surface transport are emitted by HGVs and light duty vehicles despite only accounting for 18.4% of miles travelled per year in the West Midlands. Freight and logistics is heavily influenced by cost and efficiency, therefore policies which encourage take up of efficient delivery systems through CAM would likely be welcomed by the industry.”
Whichever road CAM takes us down, human acceptance of these new technologies and travel policies will be the main driver to achieving the net zero goal. This means that visible, public trialling of CAM products and services alongside testing of new policies at scale are crucial building blocks to this brighter future.
This blog was first published by Midlands Future Mobility and Zenzic.