A year from now, climate negotiators representing countries worldwide will be in Paris. They hope to finalise international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Success will depend heavily on economic policy, and the new technologies to usher in a carbon light world.
“Unlike treaties of the past, the Paris agreement needs to speak as loudly of economic transformation as it does of carbon emissions targets,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. The Bank wants new clean technology investments. It wants energy efficiency, performance standards for vehicles and clear economic remit for change.
Motorsport seems an unlikely partner in all this. But the silent technologies being developed in Formula E are ideally placed to put the Bank’s vision on the ground. The Formula, a hotbed for excitement and intrigue, is also a key testing space for sustainable batteries, systems and futurist thinking.
“The future I see is for energy companies to become energy carriers,” says Preston. He has 12 years top level motorsport experience with Arrows, McLaren and Super Aguri F1 teams. Electric motors and reimagined transport are central to his vision. It involves carbon-light urban mobility in the cities of tomorrow.
“Fuel, batteries, hydrogen; they are all just carriers of energy. The energy is just stored in a number of different forms. Each has relevance to future transportation and we are working on all within SAFE Racing Technologies, our technology company that support the Amlin Aguri Formula E racing team.”
Finding more reliable energy storage is key. Preston believes legislation is a strong force to help. “If one mega city in China changed its rules to have zero emissions in the city, this could support three new, sustainable electric car companies, all using futurist batteries and storage tech.” he says.
“I think one of the reasons this hasn’t started yet is because the local companies are not quite there with the technology, so the government won’t start until the local companies can support. This is where Formula E comes in.” Motorsports has traditionally driven development in clutches or computer controlled suspension. Now it provides a testbed for advanced EV technologies.
“Once one city does EV successfully, it is possible to start a snowball effect with cities such as Los Angeles perhaps trying again; they tried in the 90s if I recall,” says Preston. In another shift in sustainable thinking, he explains how Formula E is exploring parallels between energy and cloud-based computer systems.
“When software is based in the cloud, individual upgrades in server speeds or software tweaks see all users on the system benefiting immediately,” he begins.
“I think the same could be true of our electrical grid. Today we have coal fired powerstations, but as soon as one of them is upgraded the whole system would be simultaneously. The concept is the ‘Energy Cloud,’ as some people are beginning to call it.
“As more renewables come online, this energy cloud is naturally and automatically upgraded. When more energy carriers connect to the smart grid, and electric cars plug in, the intermittent nature of some renewables is dealt with automatically by the Smart Energy Cloud.”
In this way, cohesive cloud systems could alleviate shortfalls in solar or wind power through scale. “Some more radical ideas could be carbon sequestration at the source of the power generation,” Preston continues.
Returning to the Formula E circuit, he hopes to see static batteries, ready at each race track one month before the race. These would be charged using solar and other renewables, from the smart energy cloud ready for use on race day.
“After the race they would be used for legacy projects; emergency power backup systems for hospital and schools. Cars need only be one part of the modal mix. The design will have longevity. I see Formula E providing a showcase for technology to encourage early adoption of new ideas by making the technology cool and relevant.”
Such Formula E technology might feature in tomorrow’s cars, trains or buses, depending on market dynamics. Preston points out that F1 flywheel technology is finding its way into buses at the moment. “Routes to market can take different paths. Formula E will develop technologies to push overall electrification of the transport industry.”
Widespread takeup for EV may well need direct wireless charging, which Preston discussed at a recent sustainable transport forum in Cologne. “Many bus projects are up and running where a bus will charge at every stop on its journey, effectively giving it limitless range using an electric drivetrain.
“Formula E is developing battery charging, packaging and programming of usage patterns. We are set to really showcase what a cool and interesting thing electrification of vehicles is.”
Jim Yong Kim believes decarbonising energy sectors over time, while maintaining energy required for development constitutes a challenge no developed country has faced in its history.
“Getting to net zero emissions before 2100 will require a continuing shift in the direction of our energy portfolio, to support energy access for all and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said.
“It will require continued support for clean transportation and building low-carbon, livable cities, particularly in the fast-growing cities of the developing world, where development today will lock in growth patterns for decades to come.”
Such green transportation may seem light years from the race tracks of Putrajaya or Uruguay. But perhaps, as electric race cars whizz quietly around, the answers are coming.