As I was listening to the discussion regarding the development Arctic road transport, it became clear that many things will change. The change is in every level: in vehicles and their components, services, the infrastructure and actually in the whole transportation system.
I was invited to take part in a high-level seminar titled Smart Green and Safe Arctic Road Transportation. It took place in Saariselkä on the 12th of January 2017 and there were about fifty participants representing transport professionals from Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.
Overall, the seminar had interesting key notes and four different panel discussions. In this blog, I’m writing on some interesting things that were personally interesting to me in those panel discussions.
Traffic safety in the North
Talking about winter tires
Much of the discussion on Arctic road safety was on the topic of winter tires. In Finland, they have become obligatory for heavy-duty vehicles this year. Some say that this should have been done decades ago. Moreover, this obligation is not entirely problem-free because tires that practically have summer tire characteristics can be labelled as winter tires in the EU.
Consequently, the consumers are confused on selecting the right winter tire as well because the quality cannot be concluded based on the looks and current labels. The biggest differences are in the rubber compound, which cannot be evaluated with a bare eye. One solution would be to better standardise winter tires and create an icicle symbol (or some other symbol) for consumers.
It seems that currently EU initiatives are directing customers towards studless tires for winter conditions, which is not improving safety, at least not in our climatic conditions.
ITS paves the road to safety
Naturally the tires are not the only issue in road transport safety.
The increasing amount of tourism and cargo traffic is very much visible in our roads and simultaneously the technology enables safer transportation. Various intelligent applications have become available for road users. For example, the Reindeer Bell (Porokello) application gives warnings of reindeer and a web application shows the current status of road maintenance in North-Finland – something that the cargo traffic can look at when planning their driving and pauses.
Decarbonisation of the Arctic transport sector
The EVs and hydrogen as a tool for decarbonisation
When discussing of decarbonisation of road transport, the technologies got a lot of attention while not forgetting public incentives and the whole transportation system. Technologically the electric vehicles are the future answer for transport emissions. The latest step in EVs will be fuel cells, where especially the use of hydrogen is seen very environmentally-friendly. Hydrogen can be created from water through electrolysis and it can be stored also in a liquid form. This cryogenic hydrogen storing should be very efficient in the Arctic areas due to the cold climate.
Even though they are inevitably coming, the EVs will have problems in cold climate. The batteries need to be heated, the range becomes shorter and the battery performance is weaker.
However, the internal combustion engines also have their issues in our climate in engine starting, engine wear and in energy consumption and emissions. Although the EVs and hydrogen get a lot of attention, the other alternative fuels cannot be neglected. They also have their strengths and weaknesses but the biofuels are the only fuel usable in each transportation mode.
Still we have to extend our view on emissions from vehicles to the whole transportation system. The control of emissions has to be made in the big picture and this is also where ITS plays a part. We cannot also focus only on local emissions because we operate in a global world.
Norway stimulates the demand for EVs and hydrogen
Different incentives for EV adoption have been very successful in Norway, especially in the capital area Akershus.
The EVs have become popular due to tax relief of nearly 100%, road toll-free travelling, VAT exempted EV leasing and free parking at the municipality. The EV drivers can also use the bus lane!
The use of hydrogen is also the future solution in Norway, which will invest 85 – 100M€ in hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in the coming years. The country has its hydrogen strategy for the years 2014-2015.
Arctic transport infrastructure
Our roads have to serve also our neighbours
The major message that came through regarding our transport infrastructure was in stepping out of the local level transport planning. Finland’s road network is also Norway’s road network.
The East-West connections and North-South all have to be very functioning. Even though the customers are in the South, the raw materials and in the North. But we only shouldn’t look at the North as a raw material provider as there is a lot of potential for knowledge-based industries, too.
The roads must become first. There is a lack of money in building up and repairing the existing road infrastructure, especially in Finland. Still the roads are the cheapest way to make connections and to reach places, but we need a network, not silos.
The Chinese are coming
Our road network will most probably have to service also far-away countries such as China.
The Chinese need safe navigation, access to the sea and ports in the North. They already have vessels that are being built and they are ready to have up to 15% of their EU-trade transported through the sea to the northern ports. From there, the connections are via road or rail. Still our road network need to be built up little by little as there is not huge resources for doing everything at once.
Smart, automated and digitalised transport
The automotive industry is interested
I took part in a panel discussion regarding the smart, automated and digitalised road transport in the Arctic.
Volvo is one of the car manufacturers far in automation. They currently have their highly automated cars in Göteborg, but they are also establishing pilots in other countries. Arctic winter conditions are naturally interesting to them.
Generally, the climatic conditions, fifth generation network and accurate positioning seem to be some key factors for attracting the automotive industry to the North. The Aurora test-site in Fell Lapland will have a great infrastructure for running transport digitalisation and automation pilots in winter conditions.
Cooperate and act horizontally
I pointed out in my presentation that in order to successfully automate our transport we will need to think about the following issues:
1) Establish a critical mass
2) Try new ideas, make pilots and demonstrations and evaluate the impacts societally, environmentally and in an ecosystem. This enables companies to have science backed-up references in the Arctic and the authorities know what works and what does not.
3) Combine technology, business and design – involve the end users
4) Out of the silos: share data between pilots and move towards a system of systems instead of vertical systems that operate in silos
5) Channel EU funding to companies in our regions for tapping into the megatrend of growing transport markets. Involve our businesses more to internationalise them through programmes such as Horizon 2020, ECSEL etc.
The panel discussion on smart, automated and digitalized Arctic road transport. From left to right: Moderator Anders Eugensson (Volvo cars), Heikki Konttaniemi (Lapland UAS / Arctic Power), Reija Viinanen (Finnish Transport Agency), Markku Heimburger (Tekes). Photo: Sanna Jokila
As some wise person once said, we tend to overestimate the level of technological progress in a short term and underestimate it in a long term. So most probably we will need to wait for the biggest positive changes to take place but in a long run we are inevitably moving towards Arctic road transport that will be highly automated, green and safe.