Electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems will power our economic and environmental future
After traveling via train to Eindhoven yesterday, we spent our first full day in and around Eindhoven today (July 5). Within fifteen minutes of leaving the city, we were biking through the countryside, alongside a beautiful canal and a seemingly ceaseless row of old trees. Eventually, we came upon Helmond, sometimes called the “automotive city” because of its role in vehicle innovation. In Helmond, we visited the “Automotive Campus,” where we listened to two presentations focused on the future of vehicles and their intersection with smart cities. We also were able to look around a workshop on the Automotive Campus where students from Fontys University (in Eindhoven) build their own electric cars, one of which drove to Berlin with only one recharge. While we didn’t learn much about the technical aspects of these student-built electric cars, it was impressive to witness an example of the hands-on learning that students in the Netherlands participate in to further their education and to hear about the companies that financially support this technical, hands-on form of learning. We picked up a great deal of information during our first day in Eindhoven, but I thought some of the best insights were on the future of electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems.
Both presenters prefaced the importance of transitioning to electric vehicles by mentioning the impending threat to the Netherlands from climate change. While Eindhoven would be safe, most other major Dutch cities could be underwater in mere decades if no major action occurs to combat climate change. That’s why the innovation occurring at the Automotive Campus is so crucial. Our first presentation focused on smart and green mobility, with our presenter Daniel introducing us to facts and goals for the Netherlands. The largest ambition for the nation is having one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in 2025, a huge increase from the current amount of 113,000 registered EVs. It’s pretty appealing for the Dutch to embrace EVs because gas costs are very high here, making electric a better economic and environmental option. Along with the increase in EVs will come an increase in public and private chargepoints for EVs, although our presenter emphasized that he thought the main increase would occur in private chargepoints (either at workplaces or homes).
When electric vehicles are mentioned, the conversation often focuses around cars. But the Netherlands is truly looking to the future by investing in heavy duty electric powertrains and e-buses. As of now, 43 e-buses operate in Eindhoven and 100 operate in Amsterdam. The most complex question around e-buses is the time it takes to recharge the buses, but there seems to also be a solution for that in the Netherlands. Faster chargers, also known as superchargers, can charge a bus in as little as twenty minutes. Fast recharging could make e-buses a more viable option for public transit across the world. Because of more and more e-buses, public transportation will cause less pollution and more cars can be taken off the road, decreasing traffic and increasing efficiency.
In these two presentations, we also learned more about innovation ecosystems and knowledge clustering, an important part of smart cities that we have already looked at earlier in the trip. Our second presenter, Bram, discussed the so-called “triple helix,” otherwise known as the cooperation between knowledge institutes, government, and industry. This close cooperation allows innovation to occur in an environment where it is in the best interests of economic growth as well as individuals’ well-being. The triple helix is a form of knowledge clustering, with different parties bringing different viewpoints to the table and helping to create a smarter region, country, and world. These concepts are economic boons for startups and innovation and could be successfully implemented more in cities across the United States and the rest of the world.