Implications of the electrification of regional municipal transport: Exploring narratives and systemic effects

Main Presenter: Michael Martin 

Co-Authors: Sjoerd Herlaar

Session: Virtual Poster Session 1

In recent years, the interest in electrification for promoting fossil-free transportation in urban environments has steadily increased, with municipalities altering their public transportation systems towards electrification. Nonetheless, there has been limited scientific investigation on the potential implications of electrification. The aim of this project was to review the context and broader systemic implications of increased electrification of urban public transportation systems. We do this by applying a novel methodology, whereby we study the discourse used to promote electrification (and its effects on incumbent biogas systems) to understand the potential effects, indicators, and future visions created. This is then used to develop a system dynamics model of current biogas fleets in Stockholm and Skåne to assess the environmental and socio-economic implications of electrification.

The discourse analysis, which reviewed a large collection of media, found that the general narrative pointed to electrification as the ideal system of the future. This includes expectations about the technology and advancements motivated primarily by the potential environmental benefits they offer from fossil-free, clean, and reduced noise transportation. Biogas systems were also framed as an important contribution to society. We then modeled scenarios for electrification and displacement of biogas to new markets based on the discourse analysis findings.

The results of the modeling suggest that the electrification of inner-city municipal transportation led to reduced direct environmental impacts (e.g., reduced GHG emissions, particulate matter, and NOx emissions). These also contributed to significant socio-economic cost savings from reduced exposure to these emissions in the inner-city. Noise reductions were not as significant as highlighted in the discourse. Displacing biogas for use as an alternative to diesel for heavy-duty vehicles and marine diesel led to large environmental impact and socio-economic cost reductions. These outweighed a number of other indirect implications of added infrastructure and electricity demand.

With the given studied narrative, overall electrification was also found to have an overall benefit for employment, illustrating an increase in full-time employment possibilities, though this depends also largely on the origin of the vehicles and infrastructure. Despite this, the biogas system still provides a large share of employment opportunities through continued use in displaced markets. As such, the results suggest that electrification can reduce the direct environmental impacts in the inner-city, but indirect effects should also be reviewed, as they may be heavily dependent upon the incumbent systems in place and there may be unforeseen consequences of their displacement.

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