Is 2014 shaping up to be the year of e-mobility?

Stories and trends from last year, and some recent exciting news in China, suggests much more to come.

Sustainable transport. The way of moving people around while consuming as little energy, and emitting as little pollution, as possible. It’s one of the world’s biggest environmental and technological challenges. Population growth all over the world makes transportation a key issue of our times.

In some big cities, the evidence is there to see, and even smell. The smog that used to afflict much of Los Angeles is now trumped by the air pollution of Beijing and Shanghai. It’s no surprise, then, that California and, more recently, China, are leading voices for replacing the internal combustion engine with more electric vehicles (EVs).

Growing urban populations throughout the world have prompted schemes for improved mass transport, as planners struggle with cities NEVER designed for cars – let alone so many of them. For example, Bangkok’s elevated “Skytrain” has revolutionized life for thousands of locals and commuters, as has New Delhi’s metro. Even Dubai now boasts an automated mass transit network that it says is the biggest driver-less system in the world.

Getting people around faster in sustainable fashion is just as important over longer distances.  Which is why ABB kicked off the year with a $200 million order to revamp Sweden’s high speed trains with new power conversion and control systems. The upgrade will improve the reliability and cut energy consumption by a lot, helping to make the trains not just more popular, but greener than ever.

Yet another deal for traction transformers for Saudi Arabia’s new high speed train line to Mecca shows ABB’s strengths in sustainable transportation equipment. The 450 kilometer Haramain rail line will link the religious center of Mecca with Medina and Jeddah, serving residents and the roughly 2.5 million pilgrims who visit the holy city for the Haj each year. ABB, which has already supplied equipment to maintain stability of the line’s electric power grid, will now supply 72 traction transformer sets and battery chargers for the trains themselves.

But much of the buzz over the past year has been on the roads, with EVs looking set to play a bigger role as a “greener” alternative. “Electric mobility, especially when combined with renewable power generation, is a key contributor to a sustainable environment in the future,” says ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer. (Click here to watch the video.)

Some countries are already well on the way. But behind every electric car or bus is a charging station – which is where ABB comes in. Last year, the initial spark came in Estonia, the world’s first country to launch a nationwide fast charging network and the Netherlands followed suit with the world’s largest fast charging infrastructure, using more than 200 ABB outlets. In December came Denmark, where CLEVER, the country’s leading electric mobility operator, ordered 50 more ABB fast chargers to complement the initial 50 bought at the start of the year.

Together, Estonia, the Netherlands and Denmark make a lot of people. But the biggest prize, of course, is China. In one of the biggest stories in the world of e-mobility, Beijing has bold plans to develop EVs as one of seven emerging strategic industries. New vehicles are already planned to hit the road from manufacturers such as BYD Daimler New Technology. Big infrastructure investments will be needed to support them. Enter ABB, who has been chosen to supply direct current (DC) fast chargers for what will be the world’s largest electric car charging network.

Despite recent skepticism in the media about EVs, the massive boost in sales of EVs in the United States and globally, along with ABB’s path over the past year, tell a very different story. The future looks well-poised for e-mobility. And ABB is certainly playing its part.



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