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Social Innovation

On the road to the transport of the future with digital infrastructure

Getting from A to B is being revolutionised

From electric vehicles to modern train systems, cities could soon become more efficient and carbon-free. Here’s how data and digital infrastructure is building the foundations to make this future possible.

“If you don’t have the infrastructure, people won’t switch to electric vehicles,” says Fred Jones, Head of New Mobility at Uber. As conclusions go, it’s pretty stark. With people and businesses more conscious of the environment and enthusiasm for EVs rising, cities need to take a whole-system approach to getting more EVs on the road. Add to this the fact that by 2050 the global population will have risen to 9.7bn, up by more than a quarter, and almost 7 in 10 people will live and work in urban areas to work, if nothing is done to significantly change transportation – commercial vehicles, personal cars and public transport - cities will become increasingly polluted and congested.

Mobility as a Service Orchestration

Merely investing in more trains or building new roads won’t address the scale of the challenge. Instead cities need to take an integrated and holistic approach to helping people move around.

Hitachi takes this premise, known as Mobility as a Service Orchestration, as its starting point for creating solutions that see all modes of transport being linked together using digital technology.

As an example, the city of Genoa approached Hitachi originally to buy trains as a solution to its congestion problems. Instead, Hitachi offered an approach using artificial intelligence to control traffic lights and railway signals, to make the flow of existing trains and traffic the most efficient it can be. This both allows the Genoese to get the most out of their existing transport network – smoothing the flow of cars, buses and rail – by making it move more freely, and, armed with a proper understanding of the whole system, means smart decisions can be made on what interventions are needed – like extending the metro – to unlock specific bottlenecks.

Driving EV uptake

Switching to Electric Vehicles (EVs) is widely considered necessary if we are to reduce our impact on the climate, meaning, more than ever, it’s vital to get the right infrastructure in place to make new advances in transport as accessible and cost-effective as possible.

With businesses buying 58% of all new vehicles in the UK, it is expected that commercial vehicles will determine the speed of the transition to low carbon transport. In the largest piece of data search on this subject in the world, Hitachi is collaborating with Uber, Centrica, Royal Mail, Scottish and South Electricity Networks, and UK Power Networks on a project called Optimus Prime. It’s a digital project gathering data from 3000 commercial electric vehicles to see how they’re used and what impact they have on the electricity distribution network.

“Fleets represent the lion’s share of new vehicles that enter the car park,” explains Lauren Dickerson, Head of Partnerships at Centrica Mobility Partners. Commercial EVs are likely to prove particularly challenging for the electricity network to deal with: they have high energy requirements and their charge locations vary.

Creating networks to support EVs in cities is complex; where people drive and when, when they charge EVs and how quickly, and even the weather, all have an impact on how electricity networks and local grids need to respond, to make the way we get from A to B cleaner and greener.

“There are different kinds of fleet,” she explains. “Those that charge at home, those that charge mostly in depots, and those that will be heavily reliant on public charging infrastructure. The reality is that each fleet is going to need a combination of those charging areas.”

In uniting to tackle the problem, these businesses are acknowledging that no single company can provide an answer. But by working together, it’s possible to see how networks can plan for and promote an EV revolution. In Hitachi’s core platform EV data is combined with network data, so that advanced analytics can be used to build models which help quantify the impact of commercial EVs on the network, both now and in the future.

The anticipated positive impact to the environment through Optimise Prime is a potential saving of 2.7 million tons of CO2 in the UK by 2030. It will also deliver a reduced load on the overall network of 1.9 gigaWatts, equivalent to the amount of enjoy used by around a million homes.

Plus all the findings will be open-sourced, as Ian Cameron, Head of Innovation at UK Power Networks, explains: “If we land on solutions that work, other networks will benefit – the ultimate aim is clean air for everybody.”