Electric Mobility and Smart Transport – a Human-Centric Approach.

By Carlos Zorrinho – Member of the European Parliament.

The systematic reports from the panel of experts of the United Nations (UN) confirm all indicators that the planet is approaching an unsustainable situation in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has even announced the transition from the era of global warming to the era of global boiling.

Humanity has reached a context of systemic pre-disaster with increasingly violent demonstrations, the multiplication of extreme climate events and the resulting economic, social, environmental, and political disruption.

With this diagnosis, the necessary response must also be systemic, global, and empowered by a mobilising vision that brings together continents, states, knowledge networks, enterprises, institutions, civil society, communities, and each individual in particular.

Decisions and policies have to be integrated into a coherent framework capable of reaching people and making them, in their specific circumstances, protagonists and beneficiaries of human and sustainable development.

In this emergency action matrix, electric mobility and transport are crosscutting and transformative, especially if they evolve within the framework of an energy-territory binomial based on knowledge and the involvement of stakeholders on the ground.

When quantum computing begins to accelerate our world in a completely different way, the idea that everything that happens is the result of information acting on energy and energy acting on information, has never been more current and powerful. We use energy to generate information and we use information to modulate energy.

The commitment to electric mobility and transport as transformation levers involves combining energy transition and digital transition. These are pillars of an inclusive green transition with impacts on the sustainability of the planet, territories, and communities, as well as on people’s quality of life.

Smart transformation implies purpose and shared information. Utilising clean energy production in decentralized and distributed models for mobility aims to reduce inequalities, optimize flows, accelerate knowledge bases, and empower both systems and individuals.

The connection between energy and territory is especially fruitful in the redesign of electric mobility and transport.

We can’t think about energy without thinking about territory, and the opposite is also true. We can’t think about energy or information without associating physical, virtual, and conceptual connections. Without having the relational foundation of the mobility of people and goods at its core.

It is no coincidence that the energy and the digital transitions are the drivers of global geopolitics, economic transformation and the reinvention of services and industry, the sustainable development of territories, community cohesion and the people’s well-being.

My scientific background is in information management, but intersecting academia and politics which is part of my DNA, has led me to be a researcher, protagonist, and decision-maker in many other areas around the nexus of energy, information, and territory. I have always been in favour of holistic, integrated policies based on values and conceptual innovation.

I believe that without investment, progress is not possible. But money, like data and knowledge, are necessary but not sufficient conditions for consolidating open strategic autonomy. In other words, for developing patterns of voluntary interdependence based on the structural independence of each partner of the system.

Based on my experience in Portugal, in Europe, and in promoting multilateral cooperation on a global scale, I believe that our two great leverage opportunities are conceptual innovation and increased purpose, focused on people and territories.

It is with this analytical framework that I propose the following five perspectives for the development of electric mobility and transport, considering the various territorial platforms.

Electric mobility, smart transport, geopolitics, and multilateral cooperation

The fight against climate change and inequalities are two existential pillars for humanity and civilization as we know it. Wars, catastrophes, natural disasters, hate conflicts, forced displacements, the erosion of rights, authoritarianism, and populism all have a strong root in the impact of climate change and the global perception of injustice that undermines societies.

Amidst global considerations of protectionism, closure and bloc formation, the awareness that effective solutions require inclusivity and multilateral efforts is crucial. Within a co-creation framework, electric mobility can emerge as a priority for international cooperation. 

Protectionist statements and the brutal acceleration of digital alternative solutions to physical mobility have not reduced the social impulse to travel for work or leisure and the economic impulse to exchange and trade. The sustainable solution lies in the spread of clean and smart solutions. 

In this regard, cooperation programs have been, and will continue to be, supported by multilateral development banks. They have been very relevant in the launch of the ‘Global Gateway,’ which reflects the priority given by the European Union to tackling climate change through sustainable transformation projects in developing countries.

Since the Paris Agreement, successive Climate Conferences (COPs) have been setting up climate funds to compensate the most vulnerable and less polluting countries for collateral damage and to support their sustainable development. The effective implementation of these funds has fallen short of the targets. The relative success of the investments in electric mobility and transport projects is an incentive for this to be a path of development, empowerment, dialogue, and progress.

My scientific background is in information management, but intersecting academia and politics which is part of my DNA, has led me to be a researcher, protagonist, and decision-maker in many other areas around the nexus of energy, information, and territory. I have always been in favour of holistic, integrated policies based on values and conceptual innovation.

Electric mobility, smart transport, and the Union’s open strategic autonomy 

The weakness of the Single Energy Market and the European Union’s strong dependence on external supplies have led to the progressive development of the Energy Union. It is based on the principles of harnessing endogenous renewable resources, decarbonisation, innovation in technologies and systems, strengthening interconnections and promoting energy efficiency in buildings, transport, production systems and the organisation of life in society.

The inadequacy of progress made to consolidate strategic autonomy in the energy sector, was tragically exposed by the Russian Federation’s use of insecurity of supply as a weapon of war in the invasion of Ukraine.

Overcoming voices seeking to capitalise on the difficulties created by the conflict, to hinder the Green Deal and other packages of measures to decarbonise and strengthen the burden of clean and renewable energy in the European energy mix, the Union made a strong commitment on both the Multiannual Financing Programme 2021/2027 and the Recovery and Resilience Programme in the green transition and digital transition. These programmes structured lines for zero carbon electric mobility and sustainable transport, with an emphasis on research and development investments in the electricity supply systems and grids industry, storage systems and green hydrogen.

The drive of the rapid reaction to the constraints created by the invasion of Ukraine, namely in the new design of the regulation and monitoring of the electric market and the setting of targets for the discontinuation of combustion engines, creates a favourable ecosystem for investing in electric mobility and intelligent transport, with a view to ensuring supply, decarbonisation, technological leadership, and global competitiveness.

Having represented the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the negotiations on the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union, I believe that, given the evolution of technological maturity and general market and competition conditions, its revision should be a priority in the next political cycle that begins with the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. The revision should be based on a broad debate that goes beyond scientific and technical circles, including civil society, which defines a purpose and a winning strategy for an inclusive transition.

Electric mobility, smart transport, convergence, and cohesion

I had the opportunity to become deeply involved in energy issues in Portugal when I served as Secretary of State for Energy and Innovation from 2009 to 2011. During that period, the Re.New.Able 2020 (National Energy Strategy) was drawn up, guiding Portuguese energy policy in the previous decade and continuing to inspire the country’s decarbonisation and energy transition strategy.

Portugal is rightly recognised as a pioneering country in the energy transition. Indicators of production, efficiency and knowledge are not deceiving (see Figures 1, 2 and 3). Green energy with decentralised production is one of the pillars to tackle the desertification of territories and for renewing the economic model through new processes of production and distribution, urban renewal, smart mobility and attracting new-generation industries and services that are highly consumers in the context of digitalisation.

For Portugal and for all EU countries that need to accelerate convergence and cohesion strategies, the twin transitions, and in particular the electric mobility and smart transport networks linked to the distributed clean energy production, allow for the spread of economically and socially viable cells as a model for growth and development in the territories.

Electric mobility, smart transport, and regional development

Alentejo, my region, covers a third of Portugal’s territory and represents only 5% of the country’s population. For its future, a development model hinges on combining data, endogenous energy, and proactive water management. This model, involving knowledge centres, companies, decentralized government bodies, and civil society, seeks to enhance the region’s identity, heritage, diversity, and attractiveness. 

As with other inland regions of southern Europe using data, knowledge and investment, the management of the water-sun binomial will make it possible, in a scenario applicable to many other global regions facing similar challenges, to abandon a past idea of being a monoculture cereal production centre, so that they can be batteries for their development and for supplying other regions with more demand.

A battery can also power innovative electric mobility and intelligent transport systems designed for regions with low-density, a field in which Alentejo has been one of the pilot regions.

The energy of the territory must pull the energy in the territory.

Electric mobility, smart transport, and civic and citizen participation

The energy transition model I advocate for begins with each citizen, each family, and each community. It involves a succession of “business plans” that public policies must help make attractive, starting with self-consumption production, renovation of the building stock, energy communities and strengthening the grid and networks, which have electric mobility and intelligent transport focused on people at their core.

This is the central message of this approach. Conceptual innovation and empathy are the keys to a green transition in which electric mobility and smart transport are two structuring pillars.