Transport is one of the main users of energy and is a rapidly increasing emissions sector. Road transport is the largest contributor to global warming by sector.
However, there are new tools available for reducing carbon emissions. Energy use varies considerably between types of transport. Rail travel, for example, is more efficient than road and air. Yet there are differences even between different types of cars. Those that run on petrol and diesel are becoming more efficient and there is an increase in hybrid vehicles that run on electricity as well as purely electric cars.
Each type of transportation requires its own infrastructure, too, which is also energy-consuming. Road transport requires a large network of well-maintained roads but rail requires a huge energy investment in railroads and stations. Ships and aircraft, on the other hand, need only limited amounts of infrastructure.
There is also an ongoing debate over the relationship between governments, business and the universities. Once, universities carried out research and simply presented it to the central government, but now that is changing rapidly. Engagement is an option at every stage of research, with not only our governments, but also business. The implementation gap used to be a big concern – the disjunction between modelling in the perfect conditions of a laboratory and the constrained conditions of the real world, influenced by institutional, organisational and financial challenges. Workshops and other forms of involvement are helping to close that gap.
However, even though the actors can now share information far more easily, they may not be doing enough joined-up thinking. People are aware of the problems but there is still a global increase in demand for transport.
One of the critical new issues is the consumer demand for more energy-efficient technologies. What was once a technical problem is rapidly becoming a social issue. The disadvantages of electric vehicles – such as the need to repower them more frequently – put people off. It is clear that just how to target the mass market still poses a major challenge.