Rotterdam has embarked on a new phase of electromobility as Lutske Lindeman and Arjan Orange, two of the project’s main protagonists, explain to Ivo Verhoef.
Electric transport plays a prominent role in Rotterdam’s sustainability and climate ambitions. In this respect, the city maintains a clear vision on the mutual roles of the government, market parties and citizens.
“Electric transport is important for the city for several reasons, but particularly when it comes to our ambitions with respect to the reduction of CO2 emissions and air quality improvement,” according to Lutske Lindeman, programme manager of Rotterdam Elektrisch (Rotterdam Electric). “For instance, we aim to achieve a 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020 as compared with the levels of 1990. In addition, we have defined a number of policy objectives in the Rotterdam Programme on Sustainability and Climate Change (Programma Duurzaam), the Rotterdam municipal executive work programme that started in 2010 and will run until 2014.”
A number of these objectives are related to electric transport. “By the end of 2014, for example, we want the city to have an infrastructure in place of 1000 charging points, and 25% of the municipal fleet should consist of electric vehicles. By 2020, we aim to have 20,000 electric cars in the city,” she says.
Role of the market
At this point, the main obstacle is the price of electric cars, according to Lindeman.
“They are still too expensive for many people, but this may change quickly. Today, almost all of the major car manufacturers offer electric vehicles in their model ranges and a large number of new models are expected to be launched next year. Prices are expected to decrease as volumes increase.”
Nevertheless, the market for electric vehicles is still far from mature, as Oranje states. “We have looked into the best way to contribute to this process from a government point of view.” He feels that the development of new products and technologies is a role that market parties should take up.
So what is the view of the City of Rotterdam on their role in this process?
“We focus on three specific key areas that offer the best opportunities to facilitate the market,” Lindeman declares. “These key areas are the development of a charging infrastructure, communication and public information on electric transport and building up a reservoir of knowledge and experience through pilot projects in conjunction with market parties and other organizations.”
“The infrastructure of charging points is a prerequisite to persuade consumers to buy electric cars. Therefore, it is our job as a city to ensure that the infrastructure is in place,” insisits Oranje. In this process, the city acknowledges that the technology for charging systems may be subject to change in the future.
“However, we have decided to develop a working infrastructure at this point, using technology that has proven itself in practice,” he says. The city is right on schedule with the installation of charging points and by the end of 2013 we will have 500 charging points in place.
“If we proceed at the same speed, I am confident that we will achieve the goal of 1000 charging points by the end of 2014.”
Raising awareness and creating support is yet another important task for the municipality when it comes to promoting electric vehicle use. Oranje says: “Our approach is tailored to the specific target groups. Apart from websites and flyers containing general information, we have set up a special information centre in the city to provide citizens and businesses with targeted advice. Furthermore, we have appointed a so-called ‘EV-Makelaar’ (electric transport broker) to visit companies to discuss and enumerate the options and opportunities of electric vehicles.”
In fact, the charging points themselves prove to be particularly effective means of communication.
“I have personally experienced that people came up to me while I was charging my car and enquired about it. People are triggered once they see how it works in practice,” recounts Lindeman. “Whenever people apply for a charging point, we therefore invariably write a letter to their neighbours to inform them and call their attention to electric transport.”
Pilot projects and alliances
To promote the further rise of electric cars, Lindeman firmly believes that thc city needs to expand its knowledge and experience.
“This is why the city participates in a large number of research projects and networks. To name one example, together with power company Eneco and network operator Stedin, we monitored the use of our three vehicle fleets. The results showed that even today, it is possible to replace 60% of our smaller vans by fully electric equivalents. These study results can also be used to convince businesses and other parties.”
The city collaborates with various tiers of government and market parties at a regional, national and international level.
“This includes conducting meetings with car manufacturers in order to scope out new technologies they are working on. One of our contacts at Renault recently told us that their head office in Paris regards the Netherlands as a front runner when it comes to electric transport,’” says Lindeman. “I must say I was rather proud to hear that.’”
Lindeman continues by announcing that Rotterdam has now reached a level where it is meaningful to evaluate the concrete effects of the increased numbers of electric vehicles in the city.
“However, it is still too early to discern a material impact on CO2 emissions and air quality,” she adds. “This will have to wait until thousands of electric vehicles cruise the city streets on a daily basis. And the tipping point will not be achieved until electric vehicles can be sold at a competitive price compared with regular petrol and diesel models. In addition, the development of a mature used vehicle market is important, as is a nation-wide approach in creating a charging infrastructure network that covers the entire country, not just the large cities.”
Time for the next phase
“In the past few years, we, as a city, have contributed to the promotion of electromobility. Now, the time has come to embark on the next phase, in which we will pursue more benefits of scale, create pressure to preserve tax incentives, and strive to develop a nation-wide charging infrastructure network,” Lindeman and Oranje conclude. “The practical details will have to be fleshed out as we go along, in collaboration with the other parties involved. In any event, it is clear that we cannot afford to lose the current momentum.”
Lutske Lindeman is programme manager of Rotterdam Elektrisch (Rotterdam Electric)
Arjan Oranje is project manager of Oplaadinfrastructuur Rotterdam (Charging Infrastructure Rotterdam)