Electrification is the future – or at least, this is what the Volvo Group has in mind when it comes to public transport, urban freight, and construction equipment. But to do so, there needs to be more than a bold and clear vision. Anders Berger tells us more

Volvo electric bus in Gothenburg, Sweden © Volvo Buses

More and more cites around the world are looking at electrification of public transport, urban freight, and construction sites to reduce noise, pollution, and climate-related impact to create a better and more sustainable living environment.

But what does it take to turn vision into actions? The short answer is broad collaboration involving public and private actors, political will and solutions with a system perspective. It is not a single bus, a truck, or an excavator – it is a new system. Volvo Group’s experience has shown the importance of detailed analysis of all aspects of the new and electrified solutions, not only the obvious hardware pieces. Electrification often needs to engage a partly new ecosystem of actors such as logistic operators, energy providers, charging operators, real estate developers etc., which in turn requires collaboration between several city offices.

A medium duty Volvo truck electrically powered © Volvo Group Trucks Deutschland

Covering all the bases

The traditional role of the Volvo Group as manufacturer and supplier of buses, trucks and construction equipment has expanded, as more and more cities become interested in electrification. The company has been increasingly striving to act as a partner and supplier of a complete system – one that helps to map out needs and prerequisites, starting with the transport or construction task, topography, climate, battery capacity, charging strategies, load capacity and other factors. Moreover, the Group realized that, other than a clear vision, which is always needed, there are policy instruments that cities and decision makers can use to speed up the transition to electrification: for example, public procurement policies requiring zero emission technology, acknowledging the environmental and health benefits as motivation for higher initial costs today. Another policy area concerns access to city streets and spaces, where quiet and emissions-free vehicles and machines can be given access during work hours and in places which is not possible for conventional solutions today due to noise and emissions.

The Volvo Group realized that, other than a clear vision, which is always needed, there are policy instruments that cities and decision makers can use to speed up the transition to electrification

One of the 145 electric buses in Gothenburg makes a stop at the city's boulevard, Avenyn © Volvo Busses

Sustainable public transportation

Volvo Buses is the business area in the Volvo Group that has most experience of electrification of vehicles and transportation solutions. Volvo Buses launched its first commercially produced hybrid bus already in 2010 and has supplied over 6500 electrified buses globally, while offering turnkey solutions within electromobility. This includes not only electrically powered buses, but also charging solutions, connectivity services, as well as simulations and the implementation of an electric bus grid – all elements that require to work closely with public transportation providers and energy authorities. Much of the experience that has built the foundation for what Volvo Buses offers is the result of the ElectriCity project in Gothenburg, the hometown of Volvo. The city’s first electric buses were put into service as early as 2015 and the project has attracted tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. The municipality, the PTA Västtrafik, the local energy supplier Göteborg Energi, the bus operator Keolis, Chalmers University of Technology, Volvo Buses and other stakeholders have been involved in running the project. With the experiences and lessons learned from ElectriCity, Gothenburg has now taken the step towards large-scale implementation. In December 2020, one of northern Europe’s largest electric bus fleets – 145 Volvo 7900 Electric Articulated – were put into service. The goal for the region is to electrify all its city bus traffic by 2030.

Trucks for quieter and more climate-friendly cities

In 2016, the City of Gothenburg approached Volvo Trucks with questions about electrification of transports. Could Volvo Trucks build a battery electric refuse truck that was light and agile enough to be part of urban traffic, was able to carry 5 tonnes, and could complete a whole day of transportation work without needing to be charged other than over night? The question became the start of an intensive cooperation between the city's waste department and Volvo Trucks that focused on developing a solution that was optimised for the needs of the city. Today the battery electric refuse truck has been in operation for two years and has been joined by four more electric trucks. Since Gothenburg’s goal is to reduce emissions from heavy goods transports purchased by the city by 90% 2030, battery electric trucks are going to become an increasingly common sight in the city, as will charging stations for fast charging of heavy vehicles. For Volvo Trucks the collaboration with Gothenburg was followed by a rapid expansion of the electric product range. Today the majority of Volvo's trucks are available as electric versions, and the company offers complete solutions for customers who want to convert to electrical power. With the right incentives and players who choose to lead and try new paths, the development can go very quickly. In Europe, a few hundred trucks above 16 tons have been registered so far this year. Of these, approximately 40% are Volvo electric trucks.

Volvo manufactures electric trucks for city distribution and refuse handling since 2019 © Volvo Trucks

Electrifying construction sites – a vital piece of the puzzle

While trucks, buses and cars often dominate the conversation around how to make our urban mobility more sustainable – with emission targets in place to help motivate climate action – many forward-thinking cities understand the need to also look to construction and infrastructure to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) offers five electric compact machines and there are many examples from cities such as Zurich, Cologne and Oslo of these being put to good use by customers, helping with vital tasks such as cable and pipeline construction, street cleaning, landfill, and winter road clearing. Electromobility also works in mid-size construction equipment. In Sejong, South Korea, electric excavator prototypes are being trialled in the construction of a new, fully connected, people oriented and environmentally friendly smart city.

Electrifying construction sites presents many challenges though, particularly around infrastructure, charging solutions and energy supply. To tackle this, Volvo CE has teamed up with multiple government, academia and industry partners in Gothenburg in a research project to explore how electric machines can be used most effectively in several different urban environments. The project will set a global benchmark for electric jobsites and is one example of sustainable collaboration in action – helping to accelerate the implementation of electric construction solutions. The green transition requires consideration of all aspects of the jobsite. Beyond technology, it is vital to develop the right business models, infrastructure and production systems, regulatory framework and shared culture and values.

While trucks, buses and cars often dominate the conversation around how to make our urban mobility more sustainable, many forward-thinking cities understand the need to also look to construction and infrastructure to cut greenhouse gas emissions

Volvo CE's electric machines can work in new places, in sensitive environments and even indoors with less noise, fewer vibrations and no exhaust fumes © Volvo Construction Equipment

Anders Berger is Director of Public Affairs at Volvo Group

You can contact him at anders.berger@volvo.com

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