Friday, 28 September 2012

Electric vehicle production is slowing down, but ICT can take up the slack

The news this week that Toyota, one of the world’s largest car makers, has scaled back plans for electric vehicle (EV) production could have repercussions for the progress towards a low carbon and sustainable future.

The background to the news is the car company’s relatively slow sales of EVs. According to reports, in the US Toyota has only sold 1500 of the RAV4 EV model, launched back in 1997. By comparison, sales of the company’s hybrid cars are expected to exceed one million in 2012, nearly twice the figure for last year. Hence an understandable focus on hybrids.

If the EV market does stall, then the ICT sector could feel the consequences. A number of companies have a stake in helping to get EVs to market and in supplying the products and services that make them viable.

For example, Logica has been working with a group of Dutch energy companies to develop the national infrastructure necessary to roll out 10,000 charging stations for electric cars. IBM Research has been collaborating with the electricity provider in Zurich on a pilot project that will allow consumers to check their EV’s battery level with a smartphone. And SAP and Siemens are putting together a proof of concept to demonstrate the collaboration between energy suppliers that’s going to be needed to support the widespread use of electric vehicles.

Then again, there is still much that ICT is doing to make road use more efficient, and hence reduce carbon emissions, whether for an EV, hybrid car or gas guzzler. The Smart 2020 report detailed the savings in carbon emissions that could be made from the use of ICT in optimising logistics and transport, amounting to a 16% reduction in transport emissions and a 27% cut in emissions from the storage of goods. Pike Research has predicted that global investment in smart transportation systems will total $13.1bn between 2011 and 2017. Most of the investment will be in intelligent traffic management systems, the sector with the broadest range of potential applications.

But the slowdown in EV adoption has wider implications, potentially impacting the long term move to renewable energy. Wind and solar power generation is variable, but smart grids have the potential to match demand with supply through a dynamic pricing structure. Electric vehicles have an important part to play in the future, sucking up the energy when prices are low and effectively acting as storage devices for grid power.

ICT is a significant enabler of smart grids, through meter communications, data collection and analysis, billing, etc. Smart grids and meters also raise the prospect of home energy management systems, where consumer gadgets and devices can be controlled remotely, via internet and smartphone, further helping to save energy. A number of IT companies and household appliance suppliers are already jockeying for position in this market.

So EVs are an important element in helping society to become more sustainable and ICT has a significant role to play in their future. But if their use is slower than expected, at least technology companies are already working on solutions to mitigate the emissions from all forms of transport.

This is a sponsored post, but, as always, the words and thoughts are my own.

© The Green IT Review

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