Last weekend in Hong Kong, the 50th Formula E race took place under a sky of grim cloud and threatening rain.
The electric version of the Formula One was created in 2014 by FIA chief Alejandro Agog, and this was the first race in its five year history to be held on a wet road.
But despite the gloomy weather, the Formula E event did not evoke pessimism; in fact the opposite – everything about it presents an optimistic vision of where not just the future of racing is heading, but mobility and indeed the urban environment as a whole.
“The future of mobility is electric and Formula E is following that switch in the industry,” says Agog, speaking at a forum before the Formula E event in Hong Kong on Saturday.
From the moment you leave the airport, it is apparent: Hong Kong is a city that is working steadily towards embracing a sustainable and electric future.
Between the airport and the hotel, we passed at least 20 Tesla electric vehicles; a legacy of a generous car import tax waiver by the Hong Kong government administration that in effect cut the price of Tesla cars in half.
For a city that is home to 7 million people in a space that is equivalent to a tenth the size of Melbourne, it’s not just space to live in that is at a premium, it is also space to drive, and clean air to breathe.
No better a stage then for the Formula E, an electric car race based on the Formula 1 platform that is now in its 5th year and was established to showcase and prove once and for all that electric mobility can offer as much if not more than fossil-fuelled transport.
Held on the dramatic foreshore of Hong Kong’s financial and business district, Central, the Formula E is a buzz: of adrenaline yes, but also of possibility.
The possibility of clean transport, clean air and ultimately, an answer to climate change, to pollution and to all its associated health and quality of life risks.
Supported by global automation and electric car charging giant ABB, the Formula E represents a chance to not only put on display cutting edge electric mobility technology, but also to push its development.
A key part of the FIA Formula E and ABB’s vision is the role that electric mobility has to play in the bigger picture of the cities we live in.
The weekend’s event offered the opportunity for stakeholders including the Government of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Productivity Council, ABB and Smart Charge to present the concept of “smart cities”.
These are cities in which digital analytics become its very backbone: by better understanding and managing resources, everything is made more efficient and therefore more sustainable, from energy distribution to traffic flow to thermal management of buildings.
“To make our cities smart is a requirement. 80% of humanity will be living in cities in the next decades,” says Agog.
The transition to electric vehicles will enable a major shift towards sustainable smart cities, as ABB group leader for power and energy systems Marija Zima-Bockarjova explains.
“About 30 per cent of CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector,” she says.
“The world is getting ready for the wide adoption of electric mobility as the next step towards decarbonising society and making a better future for our children.”
ABB hopes that its partnership with the Formula E will provide a testing ground for electric vehicle technology.
One such opportunity has already presented itself, as part of the Jaguar i-Pace e-trophy, a race pitted between around 12 competitors all driving the slightly modified versions of the British carmaker’s all-electric SUV which ran ahead of the main Formula E race on Sunday.
With the requirement to provide a smaller, lighter electric vehicle charger that could be transported on the same aircraft as the Jaguar i-Pace vehicles, ABB came to the party and reformatted its 1.5 metre oblong Terra charging unit into a smaller unit with square proportions.
It’s developments like this that bring to the fore the potential of the Formula E to improve and further integrate electric mobility into everyday life.
ABB has 8,000 charging units installed worldwide and has developed 350kW charging technology that can recharge an EV with 200km driving range in just 8 minutes, as well as “flash charging”, which gives a high-powered burst of energy to vehicles and is being to give 24m electric buses a boost in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Smart cities is the natural and first area where the adoption of electric mobility can bring the most benefit,” says Zima-Bockarjova.
Bridie Schmidt travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of ABB
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.