Back in 1879, Werner von Siemens presented the first electrically powered locomotive at the Berlin Industrial Exposition. This was followed 18 years later by the first meeting of the newly established Central European Motor Car Association in Berlin. The association's president, Adolph Klose, said the following at the conference: "We can observe three different types of motor cars at the moment: vehicles powered by steam, internal combustion engines, and electricity."
Electricity: The Future of Mobility
When the conversation turns to the future of mobility, everyone talks about electric vehicles. However, electric drive systems are actually older than combustion engines.
In other words, different drive systems were competing against each other at the dawn of the 20th century. Electric drives established themselves in trains but not in cars, which were soon dominated by gasoline engines. The main reasons for this were as follows: First, continual improvements to engines led to ever-higher vehicle speeds. Secondly, gasoline was a cheap fuel and, finally, gasoline engines had a greater range than electric motors because the latter were powered by weak batteries.
Fast forward one hundred years or so and things are now very different, which is why electric vehicles are making a comeback on all levels. For one thing, combustion engines generally run on fossil fuels whose supplies are finite. In addition, global population growth and increasing industrialization in emerging markets are driving up demand for oil. As a result, prices for oil and other raw materials will rise over the medium and long term. New solutions and alternative drive systems are thus needed in order to compensate for the scarcity of fossil fuels and reduce the negative environmental impact of their emissions. The International Energy Agency's (IEA) “BLUE Map Scenario,” whose goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, estimates that nearly 80 percent of the cars sold by 2050 will be plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, or fuel cell cars.
“Electric motors are actually the perfect drive system,” says Dr. Karsten Michels, Head of Development at the Siemens "Inside e-Car" unit. For example, electric motors are three to four times more efficient than combustion engines. Nevertheless, it will take time to further develop the associated vehicles and optimize the overall systems, even as work continues on existing technologies. That's why there's no single ideal way to implement electric mobility; instead, manufacturers are examining a variety of solutions.
In other words, electric mobility involves more than just replacing one form of energy with another. Instead, it impacts the entire vehicle as well as the entire road and traffic infrastructure. Simply electrifying existing vehicles won’t be enough. For one thing, electric cars must connect to power grids in order to recharge their batteries. This will require adjustments to the electricity infrastructure; but once that’s accomplished electric vehicles are likely to quickly become an active component of energy systems.
Coordinated infrastructures hold the key to ensuring a smooth mobility system in the future. Electric vehicles that use renewable energy sources, and thus help protect the environment, will form an important part of this future system. They will also often be used as car-sharing vehicles, which means they will be driven a lot more frequently than today's cars, many of which remain parked for as much as 23 hours a day. The future of electric mobility may look something like this: You land at an airport and immediately head downtown via a fully automatic subway line or an electric taxi. Alternatively, you might continue with a high-speed train. The goal here is the intelligent networking of rail, road, and air traffic flows. From power supplies to rail and road traffic control systems, rail vehicles for local, regional, and long-distance transport, and even a broad range of solutions for airports, Siemens has all the required technologies and expertise.
For example, Vienna is now very successfully operating the first electric bus fleet in Europe. In addition, Siemens is not only promoting electric mobility on land but also on the water and in the air. For example, the company is developing electric ship propulsion concepts that lower fuel demand. Siemens has also worked with the Norwegian shipyard Fjellstrand to develop the technology for the world's first electrically powered car ferry. By contrast, electric boats equipped with Siemens motors have been traveling back and forth across Lake Königssee in Bavaria since the early 20th century. Their drive systems are now being replaced, however.
Ultimately, new ideas for electric mobility have to be affordable to consumers if they’re to succeed. Electric vehicles are still more expensive than conventional cars. However, experience has shown that certain users — so-called early adopters — are quite willing to pay a higher price for them in the beginning. Electric cars can be made even more attractive through the establishment of favorable conditions — such as dedicated lanes, reserved parking spaces, and tax incentives. Finally, competition is always good for innovation, and the more the market develops, the more costs will decline and the more people there will be who'll choose to purchase a vehicle with an alternative drive system.