David Savage outlines how we can now derive incredibly rich data insights from vehicles on Irish roads, enabling a smarter approach to EV adoption that goes beyond crude numerical targets.
Following commitments made at the COP26 and in line with Ireland’s Carbon Budget limits, immediate action geared towards lowering the State’s overall carbon emissions is now essential if we hope to achieve Ireland’s agreed upon climate objectives with the European Union. Reducing emissions in the transport sector is pivotal to these efforts, with the sector accounting for 17.9% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.
To date, electric vehicles (EVs) have commonly been viewed as the panacea to transport sector pollution. For businesses, governments and consumers, switching to electric is an attractive proposition, imparting a feeling that we have made a significant action, while requiring only a small alteration to our current lifestyle.
“A successful approach calls for an overall reduction in car journeys, better public transport infrastructure, redesigned cities and a smarter transition to electric – prioritising electrification where it makes most economic and environmental sense”
However, EVs bring about their own challenges and don’t represent a silver bullet solution to the crisis. Collaborative and smarter decarbonisation efforts must be made.
The challenges of going electric
In Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, the Government has targeted 936,000 EVs on Irish roads by 2030. This may be viewed as ambitious; Ireland is coming from a base of around 41,000 mid-2021. Whether the target is achievable or not, there is a danger of putting all of our transport emission reduction hopes in the one basket. For comparison, just 1,500 EV buses are targeted for 2030, with no concrete figures given for the growth of electrified rail services.
An overemphasis on EV adoption raises three primary concerns. First, Ireland’s cities are already overly congested. Whether electric or fossil-fuel powered, an abundance of vehicles will cause continued traffic disruption and inhibit the growth of cycling, rail, and pedestrian infrastructure in city centres lined with roads and parking spaces.
Second, while EVs don’t burn and emit carbon from fuel, significant resources are still consumed in their production and operation – be it through the generation of toxic dust under braking or the often coal-produced electricity required for charging their batteries.
Finally, the cost of transitioning to electric unfairly impacts lower income individuals and families. With a limited second-hand EV market and new EVs still generally more expensive than their petrol or diesel counterparts, only the relatively wealthy can afford to purchase an EV, avail of significant tax breaks and avoid punitive taxation on fossil fuels.
None of the above points are intended to deter EV adoption; simply to point out that the challenge in reducing transport emissions is multifaceted. A successful approach calls for an overall reduction in car journeys, better public transport infrastructure, redesigned cities and a smarter transition to electric – prioritising electrification where it makes most economic and environmental sense.
Data powering smarter sustainability strategies
In place of a simple numerical target, a smarter approach to electrification can be achieved with the help of advanced technologies and data. Telematics enables the processing, measuring and analysis of all of the information generated by a vehicle, from average speed and driver behaviour to engine diagnostics and route optimisation. Through telematics-backed data driven insights, we can better understand which vehicles are most suitable to be replaced by an EV, as well as maximising the efficiency of current petrol and diesel vehicles to minimize fuel usage.
Looking beyond individuals’ purchasing decisions, commercial vehicles make up a significant portion of Ireland’s national fleet and can lead the way in carbon reduction efforts. Both public and private sector organisations can leverage telematics when it comes to weighing up the decision to make the switch to electric. With the ability to analyse each vehicle’s distinct driving profile and determine those within a fleet best suited for EV replacement, data analysis can help save businesses money, indicating exactly how much more cost-effective specific electric models would be when factoring in their total cost of ownership over the duration of the vehicle’s lifespan.
In certain cases, it may not be currently feasible to make the switch, yet organisations can still take steps powered by real-time vehicle analytics to mitigate the environmental impact of their internal combustion engine (ICE) fleet. Telematic helps fleet operators to determine the most efficient route to reduce fuel consumption, conduct predictive maintenance to avoid malfunctions causing additional pollution, and offer feedback to improve driving behaviour – helping reduce speed, harsh braking, and idling times. Cumulatively, these measures add up across individual businesses, government, and industries, to have a significant overall impact on CO2 emissions and fuel usage.
Driving a greener and more prosperous future
Joined-up thinking backed by data will not only help efforts to decarbonise the transport sector, but will in fact create new economic opportunities. The global industry of connected cars was valued at $53.9 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach a total market value of $166 billion by 2025. For corresponding Irish market figures, this represents a €500m opportunity within the connected car industry by 2025.
As a country with a highly skilled and educated workforce and as a technology stronghold in Europe, Ireland is well positioned to lead the way in terms of a data-driven climate approach that creates new jobs, new value and better opportunities.
There are no shortcuts in the fight against climate change. Pushing for EV adoption alone won’t solve the challenges of creating a sustainable transport industry, but can form a core and effective pillar of our efforts when viewed through a data-attuned lens.
For more information on Geotab’s approach to sustainability, download the 2021 Geotab Sustainability Report