What if e-bikes, electric scooters and electric skateboards were added to walking and cycling in our attempts to reduce emissions through behaviour change? It’s a promising solution for all those people who genuinely want to reduce their emissions but don’t want the extra exercise. Quoting from their report, Jennifer Dungs at EIT InnoEnergy looks at the gains to be made, along with a valuable reduction in city congestion. Micromobility is still tiny: less than 0.1% of the kilometres travelled within European cities. But the pandemic has given it a boost as commuters try to avoid mass transport, and city authorities are responding. It neatly aligns with climate goals, moving away from traditional car-centric city designs. Dungs recommends the manufacture and maintenance of micro-vehicles within Europe (now dominated by China), emphasising net-zero production and recycling. Europe’s quickly expanding battery industry will help. By 2030, Europe could see the scale-up of micromobility creating one million direct and indirect jobs, and annual reductions of 30m tons of CO2 emissions (equal to 12% of the German energy sector’s emissions) and 127 TWh of energy consumption (23% of Germany’s transport sector’s total).
Never-ending traffic jams, growing CO₂ emissions, excessive noise levels, and a lack of recreational space have become some of the most pressing issues for Europe’s cities. Still largely focused on the needs of (combustion engine) car drivers and reliant on outdated infrastructures, most cities’ transport systems have been unable to adequately address these important threats to the quality of life in our urban areas. Though it seems, that change may be just around the corner.
Pandemic and climate crisis open door to progress
Micromobility as it stands today, is still far from being particularly sustainable, nor is it a means of mass transport. In fact, it has not (yet) been able to prove itself as a significant part of the solution for our cities’ gravest challenges – from heavy pollution to permanent gridlock.
In Europe, shared micromobility solutions in 2019 accounted for less than 0.1% of the kilometres people travel within cities. This negligible share speaks volumes. However, it is apparent that the escalating climate crisis, coupled with the unprecedented societal disruption caused by COVID-19 is, in fact, providing the perfect opportunity to implement new sustainable solutions into our mobility systems.
Since the start of the pandemic, cities all over the globe have made positive commitments to expand bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Take Paris for instance, who have awarded a pilot project to Estonian start-up DUCKT to implement 150 of their docking and charging stations for different types of micromobility vehicles in the River Gauche district, leveraging existing infrastructure to draw power – like streetlights, bus stations or even advertising boards.
It appears that with this ever-growing momentum, micromobility may be set for driving this transformation. A recent McKinsey study predicts that micromobility will quickly recover from the blow by COVID-19, reaching even higher usage levels than was expected before the world was brought to a standstill.
The opportunities for new providers and vehicles to enter the fray are almost limitless. City logistics, for instance, is a wide-open space for new solutions to decarbonise and at the same time boost efficiency in this multi-billion-dollar market. One of many great examples is Hermes who have partnered up with start-up companies ONO and Swobee to provide emission-free last mile deliveries to some 300,000 citizens in Berlin, with more German cities soon to follow.
However, to achieve genuine, sustainable change, and unlock the many economic benefits that micromobility could bring, a systemic multi-stakeholder approach is required that considers the entire value chain. This includes a shift to higher quality components and improved serviceability – particularly motors and batteries – more local manufacturing, consequent recycling and a focus on developing and utilising purpose-built vehicles.
Introducing more user-centric electric vehicles alone could lead to an increased coverage of use cases from 50% to 80% by the end of the decade – giving a major boost for micromobility to grab a much larger share of short distance trips.
Micro-vehicle production, maintenance: where, and how
In order to assess the full potential for micromobility to bring down emissions, create jobs and economic value it is essential to hone in on the manufacturing part of the value chain, especially “where” and “how” the vehicles are produced.
Starting with the “where”, micromobility in Europe at present suffers from an over reliance on imports, as has been seen in other sectors like solar PV or the battery industry. At the onset of the micromobility rollout in 2019, the lion’s share of the fleets were supplied by Ninebot and Xiaomi, two Chinese manufacturers. While the concentration in the market is now a little more subdued, a majority of the vehicles still come from east Asia, regardless of their end destination; with the consequence being that a large proportion of the economic value and job creation is taking place in those parts of the world.
However, this is something which, of course, with specialised knowledge and resources can be rectified. As is evident by looking to the quickly expanding battery industry in Europe as an example – which is predicted to reach an annual volume of EUR 250 billion by 2025. There is a significant opportunity for manufacturers in Europe and across the pond in the US to step in and build up a strong micromobility value chain to the benefit of the industry as well as society as a whole.
Which leads to “how” the vehicles are produced. A switch to local production for the vehicles and batteries in net zero CO2 production facilities, with an increase in recycled aluminium parts could reduce CO2 emissions by 40% per vehicle. Higher quality and better serviceability could improve vehicle lifespans and create cost and emissions savings on manufacturing. Predictive maintenance with remote monitoring can reduce downtime by 15%.
Lastly, on the operations side, swappable batteries and applying analytics platforms to realise efficiency gains around rebalancing of the vehicles could increase battery lifetimes by up to 20%. With swappable batteries, vehicles would have a shorter distance to travel for charging, reducing again both costs and CO2.
It is clear every step of the value chain will be needed for micromobility to revamp the way people move from A to B in urban areas around the world. Thankfully, the potential that comes with this can be quantified with much more than simply conjecture.
Leading with data: the path from ambition to reality
In a newly launched report, “Examining the impact of a sustainable electric micromobility approach in Europe“, micromobility data from the city of Munich was extrapolated across 100+ large European cities to project how a more systemic and sustainable micromobility approach could impact key (socio-) economic and environmental parameters like jobs, GDP or CO2 emissions by 2030.
To put things lightly, the results were staggering – and hopefully motivating. In essence, the report found that by 2030:
- Close to one million direct and indirect jobs could be created on the continent, offsetting many of the jobs lost in fossil fuel-based industries like coal.
- Over 30 million tons of CO2 emissions, as well as 127 TWh of energy consumption could be saved in Europe every year. To put this in perspective: this is equivalent to more than 12% of the German energy sector’s CO2 emissions in 2019, and around 23% of the transport sector’s overall energy consumption in the country.
- Europe could see its GDP increase by approximately EUR 111 billion thanks to close to a billion person hours saved per year due to decreased congestion in inner cities.
- Up to 48,000 hectares of inner-city land would be freed-up in Europe’s major cities equalling more than 4x the total area of Paris.
Right now, the micromobility story is being written in real time. It goes without saying that playing a bigger role in the development and rollout of this sleeping giant could pay off in spades, across Europe.
Change on a large scale is feasible but appropriate steps must be taken in relatively short order to reap the benefits that await. There are many ways in which the micromobility story may unfold, but what is clear is, looking at the potential benefits for urban life quality, the environment and our economy, we all have a vested interest in maximising its uptake.
To hear more about sustainable energy innovation in Europe, register to attend The Business Booster (TBB) event hosted by EIT InnoEnergy. 3rd-4th November 2021, Berlin, Germany.
Jennifer Dungs is Thematic Field Leader Energy for Transport and Mobility, EIT InnoEnergy