On the road with sustainable technology

On the road with sustainable technology

As the world moves toward a more sustainable future, improving transportation efficiency is an important step in reducing the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Companies around the world have taken up the challenge, developing cutting-edge technology to transform the automotive industry. Here’s a look at what might be the future of our roads.

Cleaning up the traffic 

In 2014, one analyst estimated that the total numbers of vehicles worldwide was a staggering 1.2 billion1. In Australia in 2015, there were 18 million registered vehicles – up 12.1 per cent on 20102

As this number grows, so do carbon emissions. For the world to stabilise the impact of climate change, scientists have said we need to cut average emissions by 80 per cent3.  This requires a greater awareness of the benefits of alternate fuel options, like electric vehicles (EV), which are powered by rechargeable batteries. 

While the upfront price of an EV is generally more than a standard car, the ongoing costs are less. They currently produce the lowest fuel cost per kilometre of all engine types, with one study finding the cost of charging an EV battery with off-peak electricity  (typically at night and/or weekends) is about 22 per cent of the cost of operating a petrol engine4.

The EV engine stops when stationary and it produces no exhaust, making it ideal for the start-stop nature of city driving and helping reduce both noise and pollution. A Victorian Government trial found that EVs recharged with renewable energy produce less greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles after just three years5.

As the international EV market grows, more models are being designed to meet the different needs of customers. In 2010, Sanyo developed lithium-ion battery technology that made it possible for their Mira EV to travel just over 1000km without recharging6.  In 2015, Nissan released the e-NV200, a seven-seater designed for businesses, like taxi companies and shuttle services, and large families looking to move to an electric option.

With the global focus on sustainable technology, the EV looks here to stay. In the not too distant future it may even serve dual purpose - becoming a generator of renewable power, storing the energy and releasing it back into the grid when required.  While this isn’t yet possible in today’s EVs, the technology could be in the market by the end of this decade7.

Efficient cars need efficient roads

Did you know Australia has the world’s ninth biggest road network? Our roads measure over 823,000km and Highway 1, at 14,500km, is the world’s longest national highway8. This extensive network – lying under the sun - could one day be a major source of renewable solar energy.  

The technology around solar panel roads has been a developing for a number of years; however, these designs have been complex, requiring the current surfaces to be replaced. This recently changed with new cutting-edge technology by a French company called Colas that glues solar panels onto a road’s surface with no engineering required. 

Colas showcased the product - called Wattway - at COP21 in Paris last year, installing a 20m² section of the solar road at the entrance to the conference’s venue.  The company claim that applying the panels to one kilometre of road can provide enough electricity to power the street lighting of a town of 5000 people9.

The technology has impressed the French Government and it’s been reported that it has plans to add Wattway to 1000km of the country’s roads in the next five years.  If successfully rolled out, this could supply five million people with electricity – that’s about eight per cent of the country’s population10. Just imagine what Australia’s extensive, sundrenched roads could produce. 

Solar and battery storage technology is developing by the day, as the world looks toward a more sustainable future. It’s time to start embracing renewable energy – both at home and on the road.