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Social Innovation

The Journey to COP26: Conversations on Clean Transport Episode 2: Florence Battery-Powered Tram

Hitachi is committed to helping governments, cities and businesses tackle climate change.
As part of that commitment Hitachi has been working with the city of Florence to successfully launch Italy’s first battery-powered tram that will not only reduce emissions but help keep the UNESCO world heritage site free from unsightly wires and cables.

Hitachi’s Lorena Dellagiovanna met with Florence Mayor, Dario Nardella on the Hitachi Battery Tram before COP26…

Lorena: So dear Dario, we are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
You are a Mayor, what do you love most about Florence?

Dario: Well, I love Florence’s ability to always amaze. "Beauty will save the world!" as Dostoevsky said.

Lorena: It is true, beauty will save the world. So how does the issue of sustainability influence you in strategic decisions for Florence?

Dario: A lot, because today we are witnessing a change of epoch due to climate change.
I read a recent study where it was calculated that if we stay at these rates of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission, we will need 1.7 planet earths. We can no longer waste time. As soon as I became Mayor, I decided to invest heavily in public transport to offer citizens an alternative to private transport and we also launched very ambitious projects for the energy efficiency of homes and buildings. In fact, from 2005 to 2020 Florence reduced CO2 emissions by 40% due to the fact we started earlier than other cities on this type of project.

Lorena: We are now testing Italy’s first battery-powered tram with zero emissions. Have you already seen the benefits? How do you think Florentine citizens will react to this?

Dario: The trams are certainly a well-appreciated novelty by Florentines. However, since they are always demanding and love controversy (historically) they have noticed that the power line and poles of trams with pantographs are not good in terms of visibility. Maybe for residents in other cities they wouldn’t matter, but in Florence, we pay great attention to aesthetics, the landscape, our squares, and streets, which are beautiful.

The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. So when I can get rid of the first pole there’s going to be a big party. We’re looking forward to it, the battery-powered tram is an important goal for me to reach as soon as possible.

Lorena: You are the first city in Italy that is testing it. I think it will be a huge success because the results and the feedback we have already received have been so positive. They have begun to attract the attention of other cities in Italy that now want to adopt it.

Dario: Many cities in Italy are looking at us. Bologna is starting, also Rome, Milan, and Turin which has a much greater history with trams than Florence. So I must say that we are pleased to be a bit of a forerunner in this technology, which, in my opinion, brings great benefits, not only in terms of visual impact but also from a logistical and technological point of view.

Lorena: Do you think that this is the future of mobility here in Florence and also in other cities?

Dario: Yes, absolutely. I will go and see the new Hitachi tram models that are under construction next week. I remember when you presented me the model and the video rendering of the first tram, then I saw the photos of the real tram under construction and it totally corresponds to the original drawings. It is very beautiful because I believe that with a city like Florence, having a transparent train, with a lot of glass, is also very beautiful because you can enjoy the city. I think Florence seen from the tram is an extraordinary experience not only for Florentines but also for visitors. Overall, we aim to have 7 tramway lines with the aim of moving 84 million passengers a year, reducing private traffic by 64,000 cars per day with a reduction in CO2 emissions of 35,000 tons per year.

Dario: Now I would like to know something about Hitachi. What role does this important international group play in the field of sustainability? What is your strategy for reducing CO2 emissions?

Lorena: This is a good question because if I look at the history of Hitachi, sustainability has always really been at the heart of the strategy. I have been with Hitachi for many years now and it is certainly a company that, for over 100 years, has seen many changes and transformations. But one thing that has never changed is the philosophy of wanting to be socially responsible. All the technology that we have developed, for social infrastructure (such as trains) or innovative solutions have always been made not only for business opportunities but above all to improve the society in which we live. To improve the quality of my life, of your life, of all citizens. So faced with the challenge you mentioned earlier (we are facing an important crisis, we see that climate change will have devastating impacts on the global economy, on businesses), we HAVE to play a key role.

We have really concentrated all our forces to try to mitigate climate change, we have a plan that is developed on 2 macro initiatives. On the one hand, the goal is to decarbonise our entire value chain (of production, procurement, products and services) with defined targets. You were talking about 2030/2040 earlier, we have a target of 2030/2050.

On the other hand, we want to help decarbonise wider society by leveraging our technologies, helping businesses, cities, and governments by working side by side.

One thing that I believe is absolutely important and that many take for granted is that faced with a challenge like this we cannot face it alone, so collaboration is needed, partnership is needed, cooperation is needed, and our goal is to sit side by side with the institutions (such as the city of Florence) and customers. Understand what the important challenges are and then together come up with the solutions.

Dario: So why did you decide to be a Principal Partner at COP26 in Glasgow?

Lorena: COP26, as you know, is the most important climate conference in the world. This year has even greater importance because it wants to accelerate action for the objectives defined by the Paris Agreement, by the United Nations. We want to participate in COP26 because we want to play a key role in this fight against climate change. I expect that finally some actions will be defined in order to reach and make concrete the objectives. I really expect the countries to be able to come to an agreement and define a real and concrete plan.

Dario: So I guess electric mobility in this plan is important, right?

Lorena: Absolutely, yes, electric mobility is very important.
We know that transport is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (we are talking about 16% globally), so it is essential to switch to decarbonised mobility in order to effectively achieve the set goals.

Dario: Speaking of Florence, what are your expectations for the battery-powered tram?

Lorena: The tests done so far on the battery-powered tram have given very positive results. From a purely technical point of view we have seen energy savings of 20 to 25% without reducing service times (which is absolutely critical). There is a reduction in costs because the infrastructure is much lighter, in addition to the advantages you have already talked about.

Dario: I learned that you have been a Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Hitachi for 2 years. It is a job that intrigued me a lot. Please tell me more about it.

Lorena: Diversity & Inclusion is a fundamental part of achieving a sustainable society. Before we spoke about the challenges of climate change, we said that to be able to fight them we need collaboration, we need partnerships we need cooperation.

Diversity is precisely this, being able to bring together many different minds, being able to leverage the skills of over 350,000 employees that Hitachi has worldwide, and integrate the ideas and opinions of each in order to provide innovative solutions, not just to grow the Hitachi business, but for society as a whole.

Dario: Is it also for empowerment, for the involvement and participation of employees?

Lorena: Absolutely, yes, and it is important because the more different talents you have in a company, the more they represent the society around you.

Today more than ever we are facing an extremely dynamic market. You cannot have a homogeneous approach, thinking all the same way and hope to find the best solution.

So, leveraging on diversity is fundamental, whoever you are: gender, background, nationality, sexual orientation, it is the diversity of thought that counts. Lastly, what role do you think cities play in creating a decarbonised society?

Dario: Cities have a fundamental role; I would say irreplaceable in decarbonising society. Also, because they are the main culprits. If we look at the European cities where 75% of the continent's population lives, we can see that 80% of CO2 is produced in these places. So, we are on the one hand the cause but on the other, also the solution.

Cities can experiment with technological solutions, models for changing lifestyles, even cultural models on energy consumption. This is why I truly believe that the role of cities is fundamental. There is no goal set at an international level (be it a treaty, a convention) that can be achieved without the concrete and effective involvement of cities.