It might seem like an oxymoron, yet the slower living pace introduced by the pandemic has somehow speeded up the green revolution already underway in the mobility field, bringing transport redesign to the table in most countries. The bicycle has certainly become a symbol of this green transition, but the major re-planning of transport also includes infrastructures, electric cars and - this is the big news - air mobility. On the one hand, Legambiente informs us that Italy has almost 200 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes, with Milan taking the lead in terms of stretches built in 2020 (35 km). And the figures keep rising: to the existing 2,341 kilometres of cycle paths will be added a further 2,626, provided for by Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs). On the other hand, under the heading “transition to electric mobility”, Italy’s famous National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) states that Europe is to provide EUR 740m for power charging infrastructure: 7,500 fast charging points on the motorway and 13,755 in urban centres, not to mention 100 experimental charging stations with energy storage technologies.
Thus, the issue of mobility, combined moreover with sustainability, requires a series of interventions, and as I see it, two urgent challenges lie ahead of us. First of all, power: we can now be certain that the Italian grid would not be able to withstand the power required to charge millions of electric cars. A survey carried out in 2019 by the Politecnico di Milano hypothesised an average charging power of 100 kW per column: if 200,000 electric vehicles were to connect to these columns at the same time, the power required would be 20 GW, more than 35% of the average power employed in Italy. The risk of a blackout, therefore, may not yet be averted. By 2030 it is estimated that 20% of the cars in circulation will be electric, but for this to happen we need to strategically re-think the national grid. And here comes the second challenge: redesigning spaces at the urban level, redistributing streets and pedestrian spaces with a view to integration. This change is essential if we are to include charging points, aesthetically and logistically, within our cities.
The key elements of this challenging green revolution are however intangible, and involve foresight, courage and a pinch of recklessness. When Francesco Starace decided to gradually close fossil production plants and focus Enel's activities abroad exclusively on renewable energy, many thought he was crazy. Today, Enel is an example of how a bold strategy can lead to successful and far-sighted innovation.
Let's take a look now at the aviation sector and industry. Here too, significant steps forward have been made, particularly in the production of increasingly efficient engines and ever lighter aircraft, allowing considerable energy savings and lower emissions per kilometre flown and passenger transported.
The increasingly insistent demands made on this industry involve producing aircraft with near-zero emissions, and certainly the fact of introducing new fuels such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), albeit in limited quantities, is a first concrete response to all this. If we take a broader time horizon, let's say twenty years from now, technology and innovation will certainly have found zero-emission solutions allowing the aviation industry to be perceived no longer as a rogue sector in terms of pollution, but even as a virtuous sector.
In the coming years, we will be able to see the first example of completely sustainable aviation, developed by Atlantia with the VoloCity project, a zero-emission flying taxi powered with green energy by means of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which will combine sustainability and safety with a new flight experience.
By 2024, the VoloCity taxi service will connect the Fiumicino airport to Rome, allowing passengers to cover the route in fifteen minutes. It goes without saying that, alongside these ultra-light vehicles (VoloCity will weigh less than 700 kg), it will be important to plan and build vertiport facilities capable of offering future passengers every necessary service and granting them access to the flying taxis in the shortest time possible. The first vertiports will be built near railway stations or large intermodal hubs, but they could potentially be hosted by any building with a large enough roof.
In light of all this, we must expect a dynamic future in which innovation will continue to surprise us with new and increasingly sustainable transport services and solutions.