Italian Good News: 100 Italian E-mobility Stories 2019
- WTI Magazine #114 Apr 20, 2019
Casino Royale is the name of the film that in 1953 brought to the screen the character created by the British writer Ian Flaming. It took seventy years and twenty-four films to make this saga a piece of the collective imagination: from the musical theme of the British composer Monty Norman, to the extraordinary locations, to the dream cars, many Italian, that have found in every episode an opportunity of promoting itself, with great returns for the manufacturers. In 2020, according to the English newspaper Sun, James Bond, arrived at the twenty-fifth episode, will drive for the first time a hundred percent electric car. Another sign that the time is ripe.
Several times in history the electric car has made its appearance, without ever asserting itself. Already in the middle of the 19th century, the first road vehicles with batteries appeared. At the beginning of the 20th century they could compete on an equal footing with petrol cars until the greater convenience and availability of fuels made them lose ground. At the end of the sixties, in the middle of the oil crisis, the electric car seemed again the best solution, but also this time it did not succeed in emerging on the other technologies.
The exponential evolution of technology, the need to reduce the impacts and effects on human health of traditional mobility in the megalopolises of the world, the multiplication of policies and the huge investments of car manufacturers make us affirm with well-founded optimism that we are at a turning point for electric mobility. Of course, technology still has ample room for improvement in terms of costs, battery production materials and recharging times, but the volume of resources in the field will allow these limits to be exceeded in the short term. With regard to the battery pack, for example, a component that currently can weigh up to a third of the value of the car, all analysts expect in the short term a significant reduction in prices (from 176 $/kWh in 2018 to 62 $/kWh in 2030 due to the development of technology and the increase in volumes of installation on the market. The drop in the price of batteries, combined with a much lower cost in ordinary operation compared to traditional cars and the numerous benefits recognized by local authorities (e.g.: tax exemption, free parking and ZTL access), will significantly reduce the costs incurred by owners of electric cars. In fact, it is expected that already in 2022 in Europe the total cost of ownership between electric cars and petrol cars will be balanced.
Currently there are 5.3 million electric vehicles for passengers or goods in the world (they were 1.5 in 2016), of which 2 million in China (+150% in 2018 compared to 2017), 1 million in the United States (+100% in the last year) also thanks to the State of California which, through a favorable regulatory framework, has assumed the role of leader in North America. In Europe, the primacy of Norway stands out: 250,000 electric cars circulate here compared to only 5 million inhabitants. The growth of the market has also affected the public electric mobility sector: today about 20% of the global bus fleets are electric, with Chinese cities leading this trend with 99% of the world stock (it is expected that by 2025 electric buses in the world will be 1.2 million out of a total circulating fleet of 2.8 million, China will drive the market with 95% of electric buses circulating in the world). The Chinese giant naturally deserves a separate mention: the attention with which China is focusing on electric mobility, given the size of the country and its growing geo-political ambition, can only be a further confirmation of the current trends, with positive externalities on air quality not only locally but globally and a probable (positive!) contagion effect on satellite countries. According to a recent estimate, in 2020 the electric vehicles (EVs) will represent about 6% of the sales of new vehicles on the Chinese market, a figure that will reach 7% in 2021 and 9% in 2022, up to 20% in 2025 equal to 7 million EVs sold (passenger and commercial).
In Italy, in the last year, sales of electric vehicles have practically doubled (considering both EV, Electric Vehicle, and PHEV, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), going from about 5,000 units in 2017 to about 10,000 in 2018 (UNRAE). A growth that gives hope for the future, linked to a new attention from public institutions, both at central and local level, in supporting sustainable mobility models, through the definition of clear strategic guidelines that facilitate investment, even in the medium to long term. A great impulse in this direction also derives from the recent EU legislative initiatives included in the so-called Mobility Package, now nearing completion, a body of legislation with which the European Union has intervened to define a new concept of cleaner, more competitive and connected mobility, in line with the commitments made at the Paris Conference. This is a necessary effort to reduce the emissions produced by transport - especially by road - which has been constantly increasing over the last 25 years and is responsible for about 1/4 of total EU greenhouse gas emissions.
Not only policy makers, but also industry has begun to look with growing interest at the opportunities arising from this mobility revolution. The latest Geneva Motor Show clearly gave an idea of the quantity of zero emission sustainable mobility models and solutions, dispelling any doubt about an extremely limited offer of electric models. Just think that, according to research by Reuters, the global investments announced by car manufacturers in electric vehicles in the next 5-10 years will amount to about $ 300 billion. Almost no car manufacturer is missing, all major players in the world are investing in electric. The race for the electric car has driven the growth in demand for batteries, a market controlled by Asian manufacturers, also thanks to government subsidies, which in China will end in 2020. In Europe, Germany has recently launched a specific call for tenders worth 1 billion euros for the construction of a production site for battery cells and France is close to following the same path.
In Italy, the automotive sector is worth 93 billion euros, equal to 10.5% of the turnover of the manufacturing industry and 5.6% of GDP at current prices, and involves 250,000 direct and indirect employees. This system is now within a great transition, which shifts the centre of gravity from mechanics to electronics. These are important changes that in 2017 the study 100 Italian E-Mobility Stories had analyzed in all its dimensions. Two years later, Enel X and the Symbola Foundation are promoting a necessary update of the "national framework", in the meantime enriched by important public and private initiatives. From the large design studios committed to redefining the shapes and styles of the vehicles of the future, to the component manufacturers called upon to lighten the weight of the vehicles thanks to the use of new materials, such as light alloys, aluminium and titanium instead of steel, up to the vehicle manufacturers, even small ones, for the different forms of mobility that have emerged in the meantime, first and foremost car sharing.
In the meantime, new players have also been created, such as Motus-E, an Italian association founded in 2018 on the impulse of the main industrial operators, the academic world and environmental and opinion associations to encourage and accompany the transition of the national transport sector towards the massive adoption of sustainable means of transport, promoting electric mobility and disseminating the benefits associated with environmental protection.
The last two years have also seen a marked change of pace on the subject of the infrastructure of the electricity recharging network. In Italy, it is estimated that there are currently more than 8,300 public charging points (EV Data Hub BNEF 2019). Still few, of course, but the number of companies, especially utilities, that are working to catch up is constantly growing. These include Enel X, which in addition to developing and offering the market a line of private charging points and establishing a very advanced platform in charging systems, at the end of 2017 launched a National Plan to provide the country with a widespread network of public charging infrastructure with the aim of installing about 28,000 charging points by 2022 with a total investment of up to 300 million euros.
A necessary update, therefore, that tells us once again of an Italy that, thanks to the skills, flexibility and know-how of companies, universities and research centres, will not only help to renew and make our production system more competitive, but will also help to respond to the millions of young citizens who took to the streets around the world last March to call for more effective action in the fight against climate change.
By Francesco Starace (ENEL) and Ermete Realacci (Fondazione Symbola)