Planes, trains and automobiles: Electric transport that’s transforming travel

Tuesday, 8 June 20217 minute read
Electric Vehicles

From electric vehicles to planes, this blog provides a whistlestop tour of the electric transport that’s getting people from A to B around the world.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘electric transport’? My guess is an electric vehicle (or EV), a Tesla perhaps. But there’s more to electric transport than the kind that comes on four wheels. In fact, electricity is powering transport in the air and on water too.

Electric vehicles

Photo by Andrew Roberts on Unsplash

Let’s start our guide to electric transport on solid ground (quite literally) with electric vehicles. Transport accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, and some 90% of that is from road transport.

Of the 32 million cars on the road, only half a million are ultra low emission vehicles right now. But things are changing. It was recently reported that, for the first time, nearly one in seven cars sold on British soil had a plug.

Electric vehicles emit zero tailpipe emissions making them a much cleaner option for our planet. And, they’re a great choice for drivers too — it costs between £13 and £16 of petrol or diesel fuel to cover 100 miles, but just £4 to £6 to travel the same distance in an electric vehicle.

The UK has banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, so you can expect to see a lot more electric vehicles on the road soon.

Find out how Pure Planet can support you on the road to zero here.

Electric lorries

Heavy transportation trucks account for around 7% of the world’s carbon emissions. It had been thought that the cost of replacing diesel engines with the size and number of batteries needed to power such heavy vehicles would be too prohibitive, but a recent study by the Stockholm Environment Institute suggests otherwise. They believe the answer lies in faster charging, not batteries. But any real change relies on significant investment in the technology and its infrastructure. The appetite’s clearly there — manufacturers like Tesla have taken tentative steps into the market already — but only time will tell whether this is an idea that can go the distance.

Electric buses

Electric buses have become a familiar sight in cities up and down the country, buoyed by government initiatives and funding. In March the government announced £120 million in funding for local authorities, and Coventry is set to completely replace it’s fleet after receiving the first pot of funding from the all-electric bus towns and cities competition earlier this year.

Electric trains

You might think that electric trains are a relatively new invention, but they were actually transporting passengers across Germany all the way back in 1879 — at speeds of up to 8 miles per hour. Thankfully, electric trains have become a bit faster since then, around 120 miles per hour faster in fact.

Right now, only 42% of the UK’s rail network is electrified, with diesel trains using 469 million litres of fuel each year, and emitting over 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 annually. With the UK aiming to become Net Zero by 2050, overhauling the rail network is crucial.

Electric bikes

Photo by Okai Vehicles on Unsplash

According to scientists at the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, electric bikes, or e-bikes, could save 30 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year in England alone. Over their lifecycle, e-bikes emit 22 grams of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases per kilometre, compared to the 104 g/km that’s emitted by a Nissan Leaf and 258 g/km by the average petrol car.

And that’s not to mention the benefits of getting in the saddle for your health too.

Read about our Co-Founder Steven’s e-bike experience here.

Electric scooters

For a more affordable option than an e-bike, look no further than the electric scooter. E-scooter hire schemes are popping up all over the UK since being made legal in 2020. One trial in Bristol and Bath, run by Voi, costs just £1 to unlock the scooter and 20 pence for each minute you use it.

It’s important to bear in mind that, if you’re looking to buy your own electric scooter, you’ll only be able to use it on private land, with the permission of the landowner. It’s also illegal to travel over 15mph.

Electric planes

Aviation accounts for around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions currently. It might not sound a lot, and that’s because only 3% of the world’s population take flights at the moment. If everyone in the world took one long-haul flight a year, emissions would far exceed the US’s total CO2 emissions.

Mile for mile, flying is the most damaging form of travel, which is why we need to consider alternatives, fast.

Perhaps surprisingly it’s NASA that’s leading the way - they’re working on an electric-optimised aircraft that’s carbon neutral and much quieter than the average plane.

Many airlines have said they’ll become carbon neutral by 2050, but it remains to be seen whether the answer lies in electric technology, or if carbon offsetting will be the favoured approach.

Electric helicopters

No, we don’t mean the remote controlled kind that inevitably has to be cut out of your sister’s hair on their ill fated maiden voyage. Electric helicopters are actually a real thing.

The Sikorsky Firefly was hailed as the world’s first all-electric helicopter all the way back in 2010. It could only carry one person, the pilot, had a top speed of 92mph and a running time of up to 15 minutes. Since then, other inventors and companies have stepped forward, with Australian company AMSL Aero creating the Vertiia copter, which can reach speeds of up to 186mph and an eventual range of 500 miles.

Electric boats and speedboats

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Although the vast majority of boats on the water right now are powered by diesel engines, electric boats have been in use for over 120 years. Now, boats of all sizes and speeds are embracing a more eco-friendly solution — some are even reusing batteries from old electric vehicles to do so.

Amsterdam has gone so far as to ban all diesel engines from its canals by 2025. So far, 75% of their 550 qualifying commercial vessels are considered emissions free, and 100 boat charging stations should be installed by the end of this year.

Electric cruise ships

Bet you didn’t expect to see cruise ships on a list of electric transport. Well, to be more precise, the ones cruising the high seas at the moment are hybrids, but that’s certainly an improvement on their oil guzzling counterparts.

With the Cruise Lines International Association announcing that it will reduce the rate of carbon emissions across the industry fleet by 40% by 2030, the tide’s turning on cruise ships.

It’s a start, but with a large cruise ship on a one week voyage generating an estimated 210,000 gallons of human sewage and 1 million more of greywater (water from sinks, baths, showers and laundry), not to mention everything else that’s emitted into the water and air, is that really enough?

In this guide to electric transport we’ve really only scratched the surface of electricity’s potential to power how we get from A to B, now and in the future. With carbon emissions continuing to rise, it’s more important than ever for us to embrace alternatives as they become more affordable and available. What types of electric transport are you most excited to try?

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