Can all transport be electrified? How will autonomous vehicles change the way we travel? Are we about to stop buying cars in favour of ride sharing and taxi-hailing services?

These were some of the questions addressed at Shell’s Powering Progress Together (PPT), an event in London exploring the future of transport.

Nearly a year ago, the UK government signalled a commitment to stop sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Today in the UK there are around 45,000 pure-electric cars on the road out of a total fleet of around 31 million.

Achieving the UK’s government’s 2040 ambition is likely to radically reshape the UK’s cities and public transport systems. It would also require a shift in attitude towards car ownership and usage.

A London transport revolution

The day opened with a look at the future of transport. “London is growing on average by two double decker buses full of people per week,” said Michael Hurwitz, Director of Transport Innovation at Transport for London, the local government body responsible for London’s transport network.

Hurwitz called for a shift in transport infrastructure to a more “sustainable mode”. He stated Transport for London’s ambition to have 80% of all trips in London made on foot, on bicycles or using public transport by 2041. This, he said, would reduce both traffic and carbon emissions.

Stan Boland from FiveAI, a company focused on developing fully-autonomous vehicles, stressed the role that autonomous shared transport could play in a low-carbon future. It would, he said, provide London’s commuters with a safe and easy alternative to owning their own vehicle.

The rise of electric vehicles

Electric vehicles were also discussed as another low-carbon transport solution, most notably by Dustin Benton from Green Alliance and Nissan’s EV Director Gareth Dunsmore.

The benefits of electric vehicle adoption in reducing carbon emissions was widely acknowledged by other speakers too. “We’ve seen a 42% reduction in our CO2 emissions since 1990,” said Baroness Brown of Cambridge, vice-chair of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change. “Transport has become the largest contributor to emissions in the UK,” she added, stressing the importance of low-carbon transport.

However, the speakers also suggested that the infrastructure required to support a mass adoption of electric vehicles is still lacking in the UK. Shell is currently working to improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure and has started offering electric vehicle fast-charging at several of its UK retail stations. Shell also recently announced the purchase of New Motion, one of the Europe’s largest providers of charging points of electric cars.

The cost and availability of electric vehicles also raised concerns. “It’s becoming more difficult to buy an electric car because almost all manufactures have waiting lists,” said Baroness Brown. “We urgently need stronger incentives for people to buy smaller, cleaner vehicles and we need to send much stronger messages to manufacturers about what they are selling.”

A mosaic of solutions

The sense that reaching the 2040 ambition is going to require more than just one solution pervaded many of the panel discussions. “Progress is about recognising that there is a mosaic of solutions,” explained John Abbott, Downstream Director at Shell. And Ben van Beurden, Shell’s Chief Executive Officer stated in his opening speech that “the world does not need one solution or another. But one solution and another. And another, and then some more.”

Rohit Talwar, CEO of the consultancy Fast Future Research agreed, said the world would need as many energy ideas and new ways of thinking as possible. But he also acknowledged a barrier to this approach. “Technologies like blockchain are going to change our world, but so few people understand them,” he explained. “We need to improve this literacy.”

Collaboration was a key theme throughout the day. “Would you consider working with people you haven’t before?” Shell’s Integrated Gas & New Energies Director Maarten Wetselaar was asked. “The energy transition requires coalitions that are very different from the ones we had before,” responded Wetselaar. “They need to be different, they need to be broader and they need to be across society.”

The Shell speakers drew attention to the recently published Sky Scenario, a challenging but plausible pathway for society to meet the goal of the Paris climate agreement.

Powering Progress Together is part of Make the Future Live, a festival of bright ideas for a lower-carbon energy future. The four-day event took place from July 5 to 8 at London’s Olympic Park and featured ideas and innovation that addresses the global energy challenge.

More in about us

Powering Progress Together

A forum aiming to spark new thinking and help build resilience in a world where vital resources face growing pressure.

You may also be interested in

Future transport

We are innovating to help people and goods move around an ever more crowded world more cleanly and efficiently.

The energy future

How will the world produce more, cleaner energy to power our homes and cities, and fuel our vehicles in decades to come?