John Abbott

Imagine it’s the year 2040. Your plane lands at London Heathrow airport. In just three minutes you will be in the city centre, after travelling on the UK capital’s new hyperloop service which is capable of travelling at just under the speed of sound. From there you complete your journey in one of a fleet of smart, autonomous, electric cars and buses, sharing your ride with other passengers travelling in the same direction.

This future may currently seem like the fantasy of science-fiction. Yet each of these technologies either exist today or have been theoretically proven. And each was mentioned by speakers and guests at the Shell Powering Progress Together (PPT) event that I attended at the Olympic Park, London last week.

Part of Shell’s #MakeTheFuture festival, PPT 2018 brought together business leaders, policymakers and academics for a day of discussion about the future of mobility.

It was fitting the session was held in London. The city has history at the forefront of urban transport. In 1863, it built the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground train network. The predecessor to today’s tube system, it radically changed how Londoners got around.

Now, as the world seeks to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep the rise in global average temperature this century to well below 2⁰ Celsius, we need many more radical transport solutions in London and other towns and cities around the world.

PPT 2018 was the perfect place to discuss such ideas, and to focus on how we will get around in the future. Change is afoot and many different types of vehicles and fuels were discussed, from cars, planes and ships to hydrogen fuel-cell, LNG and battery-electric.

Edmund King, president of the UK’s Automobile Association, saw an opportunity to fast-forward the introduction of plug-in hybrid-electric cars. These cars can be charged at home and complete local journeys, up to around 40 kilometres (25 miles) using battery-electric power, helping to improve air quality and reduce emissions.

Looking further ahead, what if car ownership becomes a thing of the past? Stan Boland, Chief Executive of FiveAI, an autonomous vehicle company, is looking into such a scenario. He predicts a future for a fully-autonomous shared transport system, working with existing public transport in cities – and believes it could cut the cost of the daily commute to work.

“Today the average commuter travels for one hour per day and it costs about $18 a day,” said Boland. “If, instead of driving their own cars, commuters simply called upon an automated fleet of smart vehicles, commuters could see costs fall to around $6 per day.”

This solution will not come about overnight; it will take time for automated cars to become a cost-competitive solution. Nonetheless, the fact that it is now under early consideration highlights the progress being made in society’s efforts to tackle the energy transition.

Personally, the event made it clearer than ever that if we are to reach society’s goal as quickly as possible we will need to implement different transport solutions at different speeds in different locations around the world. What works in Los Angeles right now, won’t necessarily work in London. What works in London, won’t be the right solution for Lisbon or Lahore.

It’s clear too that as we work towards long-term solutions, we must also continue to improve existing technologies. For example, we can improve the efficiency of internal combustion engines, at the same time as we transition to battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Looking around the world, companies, governments and individuals continue to amaze me as they push the boundaries of what we once thought was possible. In recent years billions of dollars have been spent across the globe driving improvements to future transport solutions.

At Shell, we have a history of technological innovation across the transport sector but we know we cannot solve today’s challenges on our own. No one individual or company can. That’s why sessions like PPT are so important to us. They allow us to work with others, to hear their ideas and inspire new solutions.

PPT London was just the beginning of a series of upcoming events I have planned around the future of transport. Next, I’ll be speaking with businesses and policymakers in China, and also have plans to visit Singapore, the USA and Germany over the coming months.

It’s crucial we collaborate. It’s the only way we’ll meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. We need to learn from each other’s successes and failures, share ideas, technologies and solutions – and most of all we must keep an open mind about the future.

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