How much energy could we save if people in Switzerland would use e-bikes for their commutes?

Problem statement

Governments all around the world put measures into place to decrease our dependency on non-renewable energy sources and to keep the effects of humanity on global climate limited. While we are making progress in many areas, transport and mobility is usually a sector that is difficult to change: people do not want to travel less, and only recently alternatives to gasoline-powered vehicles have become widely available (but are often still quite expensive).

The following figure shows this at the example of Switzerland. While households, industry and the service sector managed to decrease their energy consumption (per capita, which has to be carefully considered!), the energy requirements for transport have increased since 1995. So what to do about it?

Sources: Schweizerische Gesamtenergiestatistik 1995 (BFE), Schweizerische Gesamtenergiestatistik 2018 (BFE)., Bilanz der ständigen Wohnbevölkerung, 1861-2017 (BFS)

Many people argue that especially in the short term, we also have to adapt our personal lifestyles to decrease our energy demands. But often, these claims are not backed up by data and studies. For example, what would happen if people would commute by e-bike in Switzerland (instead of their cars)? Could we save energy? Which people could actually use the e-bike for commuting?

What we did and how to use it

The Swiss Federal Statistical Office provides a dataset of people's commutes on a municipality level. Using this dataset, we modeled for each commuter in Switzerland what it would mean to travel by e-bike (in terms of distance, travel time, and the local weather conditions). We then created several scenarios that consider maximal travel durations and accounted for different weather conditions. Including weather is essential to model people's aversion to travel by bicycle on cold and rainy days. Finally, we aggregated the saving potentials on a municipality level to identify regions within Switzerland that would be particularly suited for e-bike commuters. This knowledge can be used to improve the infrastructure for e-bikes maximizing the energy reduction potentials, to incentivize people to try out e-bikes, or to do targeted marketing for e-bikes in those regions.

We found that approx. 10% of all the emissions from diesel and gasoline commutes can be saved. If we also replace all gasoline-powered cars with electric ones, we can save up to 17.5% of all emissions! However, this requires people to travel on colder and slightly rainy days too. On the next page you can take a look at the energy savings for each municipality.

If you're interested in reading more, you can download the research paper from here.

Maximal e-bike trip duration:

Link to Publication

Energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction potentials resulting from different commuter electric bicycle adoption scenarios in Switzerland
Dominik Bucher, René Buffat, Andreas Frömelt and Martin Raubal
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 114, pp. 109298, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2019.

Appendix 1: Energy reduction potentials for different temperature scenarios

Appendix 2: Greenhouse gas reduction potentials for different temperature scenarios