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Eco-efficient transport and modern energy solutions

As fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive, and as the threat of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions increases, it is ever more important to consider alternatives in the fields of energy and transport. STOA is the Science and Technology Options Assessment body,which provides independent scientific advice to the European Parliament. STOA has examined the opportunities that could be available for eco-efficient transport with a lower environmental impact, alongside potential new energy solutions that could decrease Europe’s dependence on oil and tackle climate change.

If transport is efficient and environmentally friendly, this is highly beneficial for economic growth. At the same time, however, an increase in urban traffic can have a detrimental effect on health, quality of life and the environment. The ‘Eco-efficient transport futures for Europe’ study (2013) found that the potential eco-efficiency of different approaches needs a broader and systematic perspective. Possible options include enabling progress in fuel and information technologies, considering non-technical factors, and understanding end users.

New technologies could completely change urban transport systems. STOA’s 2012 study on ‘Technology options in urban transport’, identified three basic strategies to encourage the development and adoption of more efficient transport systems. First, the carbon use of transport must be reduced, cleaner fuels and propulsion technologies must be used, and transport flows must be optimised. Second, there must be a shift among users towards more environmentally friendly means of transport. Third, the need to travel must be reduced, which can be achieved, for example, through virtual accessibility in the workplace with technology like videoconferencing.

One aspect of the problems facing transport in Europe is dependence on petrol and diesel-fuelled cars. To examine alternatives, STOA hosted the workshop ‘Portfolio of European Green Cars Projects’, on 31 May 2011. This workshop emphasised the relevance of energy efficient and electric vehicles for the ability of European industry to compete internationally. Industry representatives introduced projects on electric mobility, efficiency gains in conventional drivetrains and optimisation of traffic and logistics.

Even though there is a consensus on the need for decarbonising the European transport system, it is not yet clear which potential alternative will eventually perform better. All options still face serious barriers. The 2014 study ‘Methanol: A future fuel based on hydrogen and carbon dioxide?’ indicated that the main challenge to using methanol as a fuel is developing efficient processes for capturing CO2 and turning it into methanol, preferably without the need for adding hydrogen through hydrogenation, which would require additional energy input.

Renewable energy solutions will not be easy to implement. This was also the conclusion of the 2011 study, ‘Future metal demand from photovoltaic cells and wind turbines’. In the context of climate change, fossil fuels need to be replaced by renewable energy systems, such as solar panels and wind turbines. However, the supply of raw materials used in technologies may not be able to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand. Bottlenecks in the future supply of raw materials could hinder a move towards a low‐carbon economy ‐ disrupting efforts to tackle climate change.

The whole electricity system must use energy efficiently and help ensure security of supply, an issue examined in the 2012 study on ‘Smart Grids’. These are electricity systems able to foresee shortages or surpluses and respond accordingly.  The need for smart grids is particularly important as the reliance on electricity provided by renewable sources dependent on weather conditions, such as wind and solar power, increases. The study emphasised that attention was needed on technology, regulation, business, economics, and society.

Making transport and energy environmentally friendly and efficient is not enough to create sustainable transport systems. Users must accept changes and alter their behaviour.

Studies

Study-related workshops

Ad hoc events

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