Sustainable fuels is not the most important

Yesterday, Maud Olofsson, Swedens Minister for Enterprises and Energy, opened the Swedish National Energy Convention. She took the opportunity to sumarise her recent visit to the Wirec Conference, in US capital Washington DC: “There was a general agreement, we don’t need more reports about global warming, its time for action”.

An extensive part of the over 30 minute speech brought attention to the transport sector. Minding that Sweden is one of few countries in the world using almost no fossil sources for power generation, the transports are next in line. The minister has a vision where Sweden goes in the fore front, exemplifying the best practice. Alternative fuels such as Ethanol, biogas and biodiesel were mentioned as excellent opportunities for Swedish industry.

But little guidance were given as for which long term rout to decide for. “… its time for action…”. After all, the life time of a bus is often 15-25 years. The operators need solid commitments.

 Jan-Eric Sundgren

Jan-Eric Sundgren,  AB Volvo Senior Vice President for Environment and Governmental Affairs, remarked that even if the recent European Energy directive is on the right way, the time frame is too short. Investments made in the vehicle industry have a time constant, for new technology, of much more than the 12 years that remain to the targets set for 2020. And, the indicated direction to 2020 is not sufficiently solid. Besides, Sweden lags behind when it comes to support for R&D, Sweden is far from the 1% goal.

I would like to ad that the discrepancy in targets topped by the goal for 49% renewable energy in Sweden by 2020, and with 9% for the more fossil depending countries in Europe, give diverging priorities for the transportation sector. Most countries should focus on replacing coal fired power plant by biomass, while Sweden for example needs to cut deep in to the transportation sector. The Swedish market is certainly not big enough for leading the way in the public transport sector and the disharmonised development will drive extensive costs for the odd local fuels.

I had the opportunity to talk at one of the parallel sessions in the afternoon. To lower the climate impact of person transports we need a major shift in priorities. Its all really simple. The transports should be prioritised in order of cost efficiency for environmental impact. The most urgent measures then become:

1, Give the public transports priority. Buses, as the most environmental friendly mean of public transports come out with the highest priority; for infrastructure, for traffic lights, etc.

2, Make it easier to access the buses, by car, by bike and for pedestrians.

3, Support energy efficient public transports such as hybrids. There is an urgent need to reach critical volumes in production and initial support will make a huge difference to the pace of change.

4, Give long term direction for if and which alternative fuels society will support. Solid commitments for 20-30 years are needed to gain trust.

Mind that, even if important, switching to sustainable fuel has least impact and is most costly of the four measures above.

About volvobuses

Adjunct Professor of Catalysis at Chalmers University of Technology. Lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, with my wife and three daughters born in 1991, 1994 and 1997. Is a passionate runner.
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