17 September 2019
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While newspaper headlines are mostly evoking doom and gloom scenarios for humanity’s lack of action on combating climate change, behind the scenes there are already a lot of initiatives tackling this very threat.

Take e-mobility. Tesla’s at the forefront of driving the transition to electric cars but other renowned car manufacturing brands are catching up. BMW has recently announced its investment in new electric and autonomous technologies could reach EUR 7bn in 2018, almost EUR 1bn more than it spent last year. By 2025, Volkswagen plans to build and sell up to 3 million electric cars per year. But when it comes to e-mobility, production of electric cars is not enough to help reduce the greenhouse effect – changing our travelling habits and our mindset about car ownership is a huge part of the deal.

“At the moment, having a car is a lifestyle, a status statement but this is changing,” says Miha Valentinčič, director of innovative business models at Petrol, Slovenia’s biggest energy provider. “For younger generations getting a driving license and a first car is not as important as it was for us. Now it is more about optimising and making the most of the things that are really important in your life.”

We are in the middle of the third mobility revolution and we are fortunate to be living through this transition”, adds Valentinčič. Petrol has fully embraced the revolution, becoming involved in a variety of projects to prepare for the future.

Preparing the motorways

In the NEXT-E project Petrol partnered up with its competitors E.ON, MOL and Hrvatska privreda in Croatia,  as well as BMW and Nissan, to set up the infrastructure for electric cars on the motorways along the Central European corridors. The project involves placing fast and ultra-fast chargers on petrol stations that can charge a car in 15 minutes or less to be able to drive for 150km.

The company is also the coordinator of the Multi-E project aimed at electrifying urban and regional bus routes and launching mobility with supporting infrastructure and IT platform. The project includes the Baltic-Adriatic corridor, with an extension to Zagreb along the Mediterranean Corridor, and the Rhine-Danube in Slovakia. It involves a deployment of publicly accessible electric and CNG recharging networks for a variety of urban and corridor travel needs with 16 CNG stations, 24 Ultra Chargers, 349 AC chargers, 5 charging hubs and 6 e-bus charging stations, for a total of roughly 1,000 supply points. In the city of Ljubljana, Zagreb and Koper almost 1,000 electric cars will be deployed for car-sharing or e-taxi services.

“With this project, the region will see the biggest number of electric cars deployed on the streets of its cities while simultaneously be well prepared for it,” says Valentinčič.

Urban deployment

So, in the near future, preparing cities for e-mobility is a priority since electric cars are more likely to be prevalent in urban areas than on motorways. That is what the URBAN-E project, headed by Petrol, aims to do. In fact, this is the first project where the EU will finance the whole urban-e mobility concept, not just the setup of the infrastructure. In the project, Petrol partnered with several cities, including Zagreb and Ljubljana, as well as Slovenian railways and GoOpti, a car transfer service.

The first phase includes placing hundreds of AC chargers with 22Kw capacity around the cities. ACs charge a car for 8-9 hours to enable it to drive a distance of 100-150km. Once the first phase is completed, the company will embark on establishing mobility services. This will include providing cars and e-taxes to transport people from the airport to the city, from the train stations to the airports or to the city centres. This is about giving passengers an option to use different types of zero-carbon emission transportation when travelling from A to B.

“For example, to get to work, one might start with a bicycle, then use a train, and then change to e-taxis”, says Valentinčič. “To plan this type of travel, you need to reserve your transportation, vehicle or method and, of course, you need to pay for all of it. For that, you need a great tool, an intermodality platform like a mobile app.”

That is the third part of the project – developing digital services that will support the future mobility. “The idea is that a mobile app or a portal will have all the data about the public transportation and also information on alternative model of transportation like e-taxis, car sharing, ride hailing, electric bikes and so on,” Valentinčič explains.

The pilot will run until 2022 and will include up to 50 electric cars and about 6 mini vans in each of the cities involved. The aim of the project is also to develop algorithms and work out how to run a fleet of e-cars in an economical way, how to charge them, and position them around the cities.

A window of opportunity

Switching to electric mobility is a great opportunity forenergy businesses, Valentinčič says. “The energy use for transportation and the classical energy business such as power have in the past been two different worlds. Now, with electric vehicles, we have direct connections.”

Currently the biggest problem with renewable energy is that there is a lapse between when we need the power and when it is produced. Electric cars can help close that gap, explains Valentinčič. »We need storages and an electric car can be a great storage, too. At certain times itcan take the power from the grid or from the roof of the home – from photovoltaics. At other times it can provide electricity from the batteries to the grid or to the heating pump.«

»Here we have a chance to reinvent business models on this new possibility.«

And Petrol is certainly not wasting time. In the last few years, the company has added 300 employees to its workforce, and those are mostly engineers, mathematicians, physicists, metheorologists, and IT experts.

»We are expanding the staff proposition to prepare for the future«, says Valentinčič. «We are also putting a lot of resources in the renewable power production because, if we are talking about the green mobility, we have to know where the energy is coming from. If we continue to use traditional fossil fuel power plants, then we are not doing anything to protect the Earth, we’re just changing the place where the pollution is happening.«

The EU has recently published its latest strategy that sets out to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. While some believe it to be quite ambitious, there are a lot of companies out there such as Petrol with the right vision who are willing to adapt, expand and take on the challenge to ensure that such ambitious plans achieve their target.

This article was published in the annual The Adriatic Journal: Strategic Foresight 2019 magazine. To get a copy of the magazine, contact info@adriaticjournal.com

Adriatic Journal

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