By Nicolas White

At a recent Conference at the European Commission on the topic ‘Smart Energy & Sustainable ICT’ Neelie Kroes Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda opened her remarks by stating that: “Today in Europe we face enormous challenges. In a time of climate change the challenge of managing energy resources. In a time of economic crisis the challenge of doing things more efficiently.”

During a session on electromobility at the conference moderated by ERTICO – ITS Europe CEO Hermann Meyer it was agreed that one solution to the challenges of climate change resource management and energy efficiency was wider deployment of electric vehicles. This deployment has it was concluded the potential to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. However it was acknowledged that while electromobility holds many of the answers to Europe’s transport and energy challenges there are still significant barriers to widespread deployment. Not least among these is cost electric vehicle deployment will require changes ‘in and around the grid’ which will have to be paid for through new business models tailored to a new age of electromobility.

As a result electromobility is not yet a panacea. If the EU is to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and thereby in its carbon emissions there needs to be a strong policy focus on improving efficiency of the tools we already have.

Private vehicles represent around 12% of the EU’s total carbon emissions with transport as a whole accounting for 25% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed between 1990 and 2009 CO2 emissions from road traffic rose by 27% in the EU.  In 2009 the EU adopted binding limits on CO2 emissions from private cars the regulation set the ‘average CO2 emissions for new passenger cars at 130 g CO2/km’. The 2009 legislation represents a 19% reduction from 2006 levels of emissions which averaged over 160g CO2 per kilometre. In addition the 130g limit came with a further commitment to reducing average emissions to 95g CO2 per kilometre from 2020 onwards.

Vehicle emission regulations aside from helping to stop the advance of climate change mean one crucial thing to consumers: fuel economy. The more efficient there vehicle is the less they will have to spend on petrol. In our current times of rocketing fuel prices and economic uncertainty this is indeed a welcomed break for Europe’s increasingly squeezed consumer.

However to the average person 130g or 95g don’t mean a great deal. Are those numbers less than their current car? Do they represent significant savings? We’ve all seen the emissions numbers on car adverts but few people can truly make sense of the number. Enter Greenpeace something of the vehicle industry’s nemesis forever protesting and sometimes disrupting industry gatherings. The NGO’s EU-Unit commissioned an independent study to calculate what emission standards for passenger cars mean for motorists.

What it found might not come as a huge surprise. The tighter emissions standards are for vehicles the lower the cost of running them. However the study has put concrete numbers on the savings for what may amount to the first time.

Greenpeace’s study shows that if implemented at current levels (95g CO2 per kilometre by 2020) the cost of driving for European consumers will plummet. Current annual fuel costs range from between €2143 in Sweden (Europe’s most expensive) to €1235 in Luxembourg (Europe’s cheapest). With tighter emissions regulations however those costs will fall to €1551 in Sweden in 2020 and €962 in Luxembourg.

Such savings will no doubt be welcomed by drivers across the continent. Indeed quantifying the savings drivers stand to make thanks to stricter emissions standards should certainly prove a useful tool in winning the hearts and minds of often sceptical European Citizens.

Greenpeace go further in their study not content to limit themselves to the current expected scope of emissions standards they call for steps to limit vehicle emissions to 60g CO” per kilometre something they say will reduce the fuel costs associated with driving even further.

While discussion on how to achieve EU emissions targets rages on it is important to note that these rules only apply to newly manufactured vehicles. What then is to be done about the current vehicles on Europe’s roads? Further even with more efficient vehicles much of the problem with passenger car emissions tends to sit behind the steering wheel.

Fuel efficiency is only one side of the coin. It is estimated that through the adoption of more environmentally friendly driving practices CO2 emissions (and fuel consumption) from road transport could be reduced by up to 20%. That is at least what the ecoDriver project is aiming for. The project notes that ‘drivers are often not aware they have a major influence on their car’s fuel consumption potentially leading to significant unnecessary emissions.’ Therefore the project hopes to ‘optimise drivers’ behaviour in order to maximise energy efficiency and improve traffic flows.

The project intends to achieve this through a ‘dedicated multimodal human machine interface’ that will use a combination of visual acoustic and haptic messages. Drivers will be able to input their destination before leaving and choose a fuel saving route and while driving receive eco-driving recommendations that match their driving style and vehicle type. Further after trips the eco-driving system will compile the trip data and make further recommendations that will help to ‘continuously encourage drivers to improve their behaviour’.

More specifically ecoDriver concerns itself with technologies such as suggesting the best speed given the current driving conditions advising a driver to slow down as they approach a hill for example or making the accelerator pedal become stiffer when accelerating away from a red light encouraging ‘softer and more ecological acceleration’.

Changing driver behaviour then could net a significant reduction in vehicle emissions as well as a significant drop in fuel consumption. In addition to changing driving habits Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) have much to offer in the realm of emissions reduction and fuel economy.

Indeed the results of the euroFOT project the first large scale European Field Operational Tests on active safety systems demonstrate that even systems designed to increase driver safety can have a real impact on fuel consumption. Adaptive cruise control noted Aria Etemad euroFOT project coordinator led to a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 7%.

Outside of the vehicle ITS can still have an impact on fuel consumption and emissions. Indeed ICT technologies are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 20-25%. Cooperative systems such as those developed in the CVIS project and tested in the FREILOT project will have a huge impact on traffic management in urban areas. Reducing congestion will cut journey times and allow for cleaner greener urban driving.

Much is made of the fuel efficiency of new car engines. Indeed it is an important matter. However Neelie Kroes speaking earlier this month explained that ‘the convergence of formerly distinct sectors is an irreversible trend”. This speaks to the importance of looking at traffic efficiency as a whole. Leaving aside electromobility and increased use of multimodal transport two huge factors in greening Europe’s transport landscape cooperative systems driver education and even adaptive safety systems will play a role in reducing emissions from passenger vehicles on Europe’s roads. This will help the EU meet its emissions targets help stop the advance of climate change and save consumers money.

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Original Publication Date: Wed 30 May 2012