Making inter-city transport fully electric with our investment into Ember

2150
5 min readMar 26, 2024

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Transport emissions sit at the fore of public imagination when the topic of climate change and greenhouse gases arises — our minds jump to diesel trucks belching black fumes into the atmosphere, petrol cars idling in traffic jams, and the flight shame we have from our last holiday. These emitters have long been the most easily identified villains in the story of global warming, and rightly so — 21% of all global CO2 emissions are from the transportation sector. Road transport is about three quarters of that (15% of total CO2 emissions).

Decarbonising road passenger emissions therefore represents a worthy cause, and again one that has received plenty of attention over the years: from the early success of the Toyota Prius through to the BYD vs Tesla battle playing out today.

Opportunities abound for a consumer to upgrade their old ICE vehicle to a shiny new EV. And this can be really impactful but, as shown in this report by IOP Science, if an EV is underutilised, it’s completely ineffective at reducing CO2 emissions.

Caption: 4 of the top 5 most impactful things you can do to improve your carbon footprint are related to transportation

The key element to ensuring transport electrification is impactful is utilisation. Swapping your low-mileage, small petrol run around that goes to the supermarket and back once a week for an EV would make your carbon footprint considerably worse — an under-utilised battery and all the embodied emissions associated with the vehicle are unlikely to ever be repaid by the CO2 savings achieved over so few miles. Not to mention the additional pressure this puts on already-strained critical metal supply.

On the other hand, a vehicle that is in constant operation and travelling many miles a day sits at the other end of the spectrum. HGVs, taxis and buses all meet these criteria, and sitting at the top of the pile are intercity coaches, which can operate 24/7, covering large distances between towns and cities, and carrying many passengers at once. Intercity buses may travel over 250,000km per year, far exceeding the average mileage of even long-distance trucks.

Intercity travel makes up the majority of passenger kilometres, and today almost 90% of those journeys are made by car. The question arises as to why more individuals do not opt for bus or coach travel for these intercity journeys. Keith Bradbury, co-founder of Ember, succinctly describes the current bus experience as “rubbish”. But it does not need to be rubbish at all — someone else is doing the driving, onboard Wi-Fi enables relaxation or work, it’s cost-effective and there is no parking hassle — you can even enjoy a drink before coming home. The challenges of course are that buses have a reputation for being unpredictable, late and uncomfortable, timetables are generally impenetrable, and the bus stops are inconveniently located.

So when Keith and Pierce, the founders of Ember, shared their vision with us, it really struck a chord. The two old friends, having left the previous fintech startup they worked at to found Ember, displayed an amazing ability to approach the problems of an age-old industry from first principles, and to build solutions with tech. Since our first meeting we have been blown away by the clarity of their vision, their data-backed confidence, their ability to see problems from fresh perspectives, and the exceptional execution capabilities they have displayed.

Ember runs a fully-electric fleet of intercity coaches, leveraging the significantly lower opex vs traditional ICE coaches (due to both fuel and maintenance advantages), and uses an advanced tech-first approach to provide a far superior service to customers. Custom designed buses, clear pricing, a slick user interface, live bus tracking, and demand-responsive stops are just some of the features that combine to make the Ember experience so enjoyable, and so different from the incumbents.

But running an all-electric bus fleet is not without its challenges, and this is where Ember’s operational excellence and attention to detail really enables them to build defensibility. While electric HGVs will be able to leverage the growing charging infrastructure at service stations and depots, you cannot expect a bus full of passengers to stop halfway along the route to charge up for an hour. And similarly, simply electrifying the centralised depots of the incumbents would require huge grid upgrades and be poorly located for fast charging during the day, which is required to run vehicles at high utilisation. Ember is therefore building its own dedicated network of strategically located rapid charging hubs, enabling the most efficient journey planning while securing access to the best energy prices.

We were already excited by the vision, the unit economics, and the hugely impressive cohort data for Ember’s passengers, but it was when we first climbed aboard a sleek black Ember coach in Edinburgh and started talking to the real-life customers that we realised how brilliantly Ember had achieved product-market-fit. When customers find a solution that is genuinely better than taking the car, then the opportunity for climate impact is enormous. Co-leading Ember’s £11m Series A, alongside Inven Capital and AENU, and with participation from previous investor Pale Blue Dot, is the very start of our journey supporting Keith and Pierce in decarbonising intercity travel.

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2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment. 2150’s investment thesis focuses on major unsolved problems across what it calls the ‘Urban Stack’, which comprises every element of the built environment, from the way our cities are designed, constructed and powered, to the way people live, work and are cared for. Find out more at www.2150.vc. 2150 is a part of Urban Partners.

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2150

2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment.