Text: Axel Granzow
How is it possible to integrate electromobility in a conurbation such as Cologne, and how does the technology perform in everyday life? The model project ‘colognE-mobil’ – one of the largest field studies of electric vehicles conducted to date – has found answers to these and other questions.
When it comes to electromobility, Cologne is right at the forefront. More than 1,200 electric vehicles are registered in the city, representing a little more than a quarter of all electric cars in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. This is in part thanks to ‘colognE-mobil’, a field study on the use and utilisation of electric vehicles. The practical trials have shown how well electric vehicles already do in everyday operation. All significant practical issues were examined, from charging infrastructure to safety in the areas of taxi transport, car sharing and apron handling at airports.
Electric vehicles help not only to reduce traffic noise, but also to protect the environment. This represents a decisive benefit for the metropolitan area of Cologne, which has high levels of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide. The recently flared-up debate about introducing a blue badge could add yet more dynamism to the development of electromobility. 13 partners joined forces for the model project in Cologne, which is supported with 7.5 million euros from the German Federal Ministry of Transport. “They have demonstrated that electric mobility is accepted in a metropolitan area such as Cologne, and that it is suitable for everyday use and far more environmentally friendly than vehicles with internal combustion engines,” says Michael Groschek, Transport Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Pioneering urban entrepreneurs
The project was accompanied by the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK). Says Michael Pfeiffer, vice president of IHK and personally liable managing partner of BPW: “Cologne’s industry and commerce are generally open to the expansion of electromobility. The local authorities should now set further incentives to encourage use, for example by creating more charging sites or by expanding car-sharing offers.” BPW itself pays a great deal of attention to electromobility: Electric vehicles are used in factory traffic at the Wiehl headquarters, as well as at the subsidiaries BPW Hungaria and Fahrzeugbedarf AG in Hungary and Switzerland, respectively. BPW systematically integrates the topic especially in its development of new mobility concepts, and aims to push on with it in the sector. For example, one of the IAA exhibition highlights is BPW’s presentation of a first-ever electrically driven axle for medium-weight vehicles in distribution transport.
According to acting chief executive of IHK Ulrich Soénius, E-fleets represent a genuine alternative for factory traffic, as well as for parcel and postal services. In this respect, urban businesses in particular have an opportunity to be pioneers. For example, the Cologne Transport Authority recently introduced the city’s first electrically powered articulated buses.
The ‘colognE-mobil’ project involved setting up more than 120 ‘TankE’ charging stations and over 200 charging points at 80 different locations. Around 1,300 charging processes were counted every month. The Cologne power supply company Rheinenergie invested a total of 2.4 million euros in the expansion of charging infrastructure, with the same amount contributed by the German federal government.
Ready for more electromobility
While the environmental aspect is certainly relevant for Rheinenergie, the charging infrastructure represents an equally important business segment – not only for cars, but also for buses, ships and pedelecs. The intention now is to build on the success of ‘colognE-mobil’: “We and our partners are ready for more electromobility in Cologne,” says Rheinenergie chairman Dieter Steinkamp. Over the next two years, the company plans to increase the number of charging stations to more than 200. And Cologne City Council is on board as well: At the request of the parliamentary groups of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, CDU and FDP, this figure should exceed 400 by 2020.
The electrified ‘colognE-mobil’ test fleet comprised 56 vehicles, of which 34 were electric vehicles and 22 plug-in hybrids. In addition to the factor of economic efficiency, the study analysed noise levels, environmental impacts and numerous technical aspects. Another focus was placed on comparing usage behaviour for the two types of vehicles.
Electricity instead of petrol: In the major project ‘colognE-mobil – Electromobility solutions for NRW’, Cologne/Bonn Airport swapped conventional petrol-driven cars for battery-powered electric vehicles.
Entirely sufficient range
A commonly used argument against electric vehicles is their limited range. In the course of the project, however, it emerged that 90 percent of all trips did not exceed 22 kilometres, meaning that the range of the vehicles was more than sufficient for day-to-day demands. Nevertheless, some major differences stand out between electric cars and hybrid vehicles: While, on average, the former clocked up 15 kilometres, the latter did 38 kilometres. Here, the users of purely electric vehicles were initially unsure as to whether the range would be maintained and whether charging stations could be accessed soon enough. In the course of the project, however, users became increasingly accustomed to the nature of the alternative drive systems. While only 19 kilometres for electric cars and 71 kilometres for hybrid vehicles were driven without recharging at the beginning of the test phase, the radius later increased to 28 and 74 kilometres, respectively.
The project provides evidence that electric vehicles are excellently suited to the urban transport of a major city such as Cologne,” says Jörg Beyer, Managing Director of Product Development at Ford-Werke GmbH. The electrified vehicles proved themselves in commercial or communal use as pool cars, taxis or car-sharing vehicles, or as an environmentally friendly vehicle for commuters.
Continuous operation at the airport
Electric vehicles are also well suited for continuous operation at the airport: As part of the model project, Cologne/Bonn Airport purchased eight vehicles with electric or hybrid drives. Ten charging stations for the electric service vehicles were installed at the airport, and 23 employees were trained in use and servicing. The airport vehicles clocked up around 90,000 kilometres. The conclusion: The airport is looking to include electric vehicles in its fleet in the future.
The taxi company Taxi-Ruf Köln only deployed a single electric vehicle for the project, but it completed an impressive 5,800 trips. From drivers and customers alike, the feedback was positive. Despite this, the limited range currently stands in the way of a significant uptake of the technology in the area of taxi transport. Among car sharers, there was high acceptance for electric vehicles but only few were prepared to pay more for this option. Here, too, the limited range of electric vehicles is a negative factor: It means, for example, that customers have to estimate their driving distance in advance. In the case of some providers, electric cars cannot be booked for more than 60 kilometres and/or 72 hours.
Whether or not it pays off to invest in electromobiles, and under what conditions, can be determined using computer models developed by IT specialists at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE). UDE is also offering an app that helps users to optimise their driving behaviour.
Phase I: 1 July 2009 – 30 June 2011
Phase II: 1 July 2012 – 31 December 2015
consortium leader, provision of test vehicles
expansion of charging infrastructure
City of Cologne
organisation and legal affairs
University of Duisburg-Essen
TRC Transportation Research & Consulting GmbH
SPI Energiebau Renewables GmbH
solar carports and electric power storage facilities
Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe AG
expansion of connected mobility
Regionalverkehr Köln GmbH & Flughafen Köln/Bonn GmbH
vehicle testing and charging
DB Rent GmbH
Flinkster electric car sharing
Taxi-Ruf Köln eG
TÜV Rheinland AG
vehicle registration and safety compliance
servicing and maintenance