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Are electric vehicles practical as fleet cars?

vauxhall-ampera-ambulance.jpg Are electric vehicles taking off as company fleet cars? If so, why? If not, why not? Here’s a summary of the Electric Vehicles Conference that took place in London on 30 April 2013.

Key points from the
Electric Vehicles Conference
:

• Initial findings of Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme show positive view of EVs

• EVs need to be looked at from a whole-life perspective

• Electric vehicles have a bright future for UPS

• Electric vehicles save cost and carbon for the Environment Agency

• JC Decaux electric vans are £15,000 cheaper to run compared diesel vans

• Heathrow EVs take 70,000 bus journeys off the road

• Yorkshire Ambulance Service adopts the Vauxhall Ampera

• Why a home charging system is better than a nationwide fast charging system

• EV owners need to be encouraged to charge at off-peak times

• There might have to be controls on when people can recharge their EVs

• The EV market will start to grow more quickly after 2015, and to really accelerate after 2020

The Electric Vehicles Conference focused on the challenges that fleet managers face in overcoming barriers to drive EV adoption. Case studies were presented about how companies are tackling cost, infrastructure and range barriers in order to overcome user anxiety and establish EVs in the real world.

Initial findings of Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme show positive view of EVs

Initial findings were presented from the Technology Strategy Board Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme, run by Cenex. The trials saw electric vehicles cover 1.6 million miles. Despite much media focus on the drawbacks of EVs, particularly their range, the overall reaction of the trial participants was very positive. The average distance driven each day was just 21 miles, which is well within the range of virtually all electric vehicles. Trial participants found that they adapted to EVs with no problems, thought that they were easy to drive and that their performance was good. The majority of drivers subsequently became advocates of EVs.

People thought that EVs should cost the same as conventional petrol or diesel cars and should look like a normal car. In some cases they felt that the EVs needed more accurate range prediction.

Click here to view the initial findings of Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme

EVs need to be looked at from a whole-life perspective

Brian Price from Aston University explained how a private buyer of an EV would focus on its initial purchase cost but that a buyer needs to consider the complete lifecycle of the technology, in other words the total cradle-to-grave CO2, which may include the EV being part of a smart grid and having a second battery life. If EVs are looked at from the point of view of just one benefit that’s important to the buyer, such as local air quality, then EVs aren’t likely to offer a viable business case.

Feedback from real life use of electric vehicles

1. Electric vehicles have a bright future for UPS

Peter Harris, Director of Sustainability UPS EMEA, said that EVs can be ideal for the urban delivery operations of logistics company UPS. UPS initially trialled a Modec, which had pros and cons, but ultimately Modec went out of business. Building a profitable, viable business around the manufacture of a 7.5 tonne brand new all-electric truck was always going to be a challenge. Interestingly, UPS is now building its own electric trucks from 15-year old diesel UPS vehicles. The diesel engine is taken out and an electric powertrain is installed. Recycling pre-used vehicles results in improved carbon savings over the Modec, and whole life costs are similar to a diesel vehicle.

2. Electric vehicles save cost and carbon for the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency’s fleet totals 10,000. This includes 4,000 cars, 2,000 vans, and some boats. The Agency carried out a trial of the Renault Kangoo ZE van compared to the Citroen Berlingo diesel, and the all-electric Kangoo proved to be £2,300 cheaper over five years. In carbon terms, the Berlingo emitted a total of 3.8 tonnes of CO2, whereas the Kangoo was responsible for just 1.4 tonnes. The Agency also trialled Nissan LEAFs. The concern was that the LEAF would not be ‘macho’ enough for the Agency’s ‘field operatives’, but in reality, when the drivers got back into their Land Rovers after the LEAF they didn’t like them any more. People didn’t like the looks of the i-MiEV, and one electric van proved troublesome, generating negative feedback from users. The Agency only had one person run out of charge in their entire trial programme. Although the Environment Agency has to report as part of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, transport is excluded from the figures. The EV trials were a success when the communication about the electric vehicles was carried out successfully
. The Agency is now going to replace 20 small diesel vans and its car pool fleet with EVs.

3. JC Decaux electric vans are £15,000 cheaper to run compared diesel vans

JC Decaux is the number one outdoor media company in the world, operating in 3400 cities worldwide. In the UK the company operates 300 commercial vehicles, 90 company cars and 120 grey fleet. JC Decaux trialled 6 Renault Kangoo ZE vans. The good news was that the electricity cost £640 compared to £15,600 for fuel. However £11,000 had to be spent on the installation of charge points. Another issue was that in winter the range of the Kangoo, which should be 80 miles, dropped to just 25 miles. Renault carried out its own tests and achieved a 60 mile range. Reading between the lines it appeared that subsequent driver training, including instruction in the use of the eco button, improved the range of the Kangoo.

4. Heathrow EVs take 70,000 bus journeys off the road

Heathrow Airport has adopted EVs, but EVs that drive themselves on a programmed route. The Personal Rapid Transit system was described as a ‘golf cart’ in a more attractive body. This may not sound very high-tech, but it’s simple, lightweight, efficient, reliable and relatively low cost. There are currently 21 of the vehicles and they only run 1.7km in each direction, but even so, they’ve taken 70,000 bus journeys off the road.

5. Yorkshire Ambulance Service adopts the Vauxhall Ampera

The Yorkshire Ambulance Service has 1490 vehicles. Its fuel bill in 2008 was £4.5 million. In 2012 this figure was £8 million. Its vehicles also emit 17,500 tonnes of CO2. The NHS – the largest employer in the UK, and, scarily, the third largest employer in the world – as a whole emits 21 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Other interesting facts include that last year diesel was classified as carcinogenic, and the NHS (with a fleet of many diesel vehicles) is responsible for 5% of traffic on the roads. Already it seems clear that the NHS needs to reduce the fuel consumption of its vehicle fleet, but NHS vehicles need to be able to achieve an 8 minute response time, as well as coping with increased frequency of hazards such as flooding and cold weather. Pure electric vehicles such as Nissan LEAFs have been trialled for certain uses, and have enjoyed a warm response. However as pure EVs have a finite range, the Vauxhall Ampera Extended-Range Electric Vehicle was used and this was also very well received – to the extent that the Yorkshire Ambulance Service is now buying between 10-15 Amperas to integrate into its fleet next year, providing instant fuel cost and carbon savings.

Why a home charging system is better than a nationwide fast charging system

A common accusation levelled at electric cars is that they use energy that is generated from the electricity grid, and so they still result in carbon emissions, albeit at a power station rather than at the vehicle tailpipe.

John Batterbee from the Energy Technologies Institute talked about tackling the energy infrastructure. The UK needs to move towards being a zero carbon nation by 2050, and we need to do the cheapest and easiest things first. It would cost £100 billion to replace the UK’s energy infrastructure. In comparison, electric vehicles are seen as one of the most important, and cost-effective, ways to help decarbonise the UK.

John believes that installing thousands of charge points around the UK shouldn’t be a priority because the vast majority of EV owners charge at home. Half of the UK’s population own their house and have off-street parking, so the focus should be on these individuals as EV owners, as it reduces the need for high cost public charge points. Most people can recharge at home overnight using a 3Kw charge rate, so reducing the need for higher charge rates which erode the capacity of the electricity networks to cope, and can result in more cost.

John argued that installing a 3Kw home charger when people buy an EV is the best way to develop a charging infrastructure, as this ‘follows demand’. This would avoid the need for much more generating capacity if widespread rapid charging was rolled out – which is also expensive to connect to the grid.

EV owners need to be encouraged to charge at off-peak times

Jon Bird, Head of Sustainability at Northern Powergrid, made the point that when electric vehicles are charged at peak times the electricity has a higher carbon content, whereas when charged at off-peak times the carbon content is lower and the electricity is cheaper. Therefore EV owners need to be encouraged to charge at off-peak times – this is important both nationally and locally. If lots of EV owners in the same neighbourhood charge their EVs at the normal peak between 5.30pm and 7.30pm this will cause problems. This issue is being looked as part of an Ofgem-supported project called My Electric Avenue
.

There might have to be controls on when people can recharge their EVs

David Densley, Head of Sustainable Transport at SSE, reiterated Northern Powergrid’s message that the electricity transmission networks could cope with electric vehicles – even up to 10 million – but the demand profile is likely to be the issue; if most EV owners plug in during the early evening then this could start to overload the network. Therefore it may be necessary to smooth out the load curve with ‘demand management’; there might have to be controls on when people can recharge their EVs, and the ‘ My Electric Avenue
’ project is looking at how acceptable that might be to EV drivers.

The EV market will start to grow more quickly after 2015, and to really accelerate after 2020

British Gas is an installer of electric vehicle charge points. The EV market is growing, but more slowly than expected; British Gas has installed over 1000 charge points so far. Andreas Atkins, Head of Electric Vehicles Services Team at British Gas Business, confirmed that most charging of EVs is done at home, where a charger should have a dedicated electric circuit, and a house with an EV will experience a 50% increase in electricity usage. It is expected that the EV market will start to grow more quickly after 2015, and to really accelerate after 2020. Incentives offered by Renault such as a charger included in the price of the new ZOE are seen as important.

Electric Vehicles Conference S
ummary

Electric vehicles can offer both cost savings and carbon savings for businesses today. The variety of electric vehicles available to buy will be increasing over the coming years. Most electric vehicles are recharged at home, or at work; a national network of charging points may provide reassurance but is unlikely to be used very much, and it’s expensive. If people recharge at home during peak times this may result in too much load on the local electricity grid, so initiatives may be required to encourage people to charge their vehicles at off-peak times. For more information see My Electric Avenue
.

Paul Clarke

paul-clarke-portrait-low-res.jpg

The most user-friendly introduction to electric cars: see our
Electric Car Guide video

Electric vehicles eligible for the Plug-in Car Grant

Other electric and low emission vehicle event reviews:

Niche Vehicle Network Symposium 2013

Motorsport Industry Association Cleaner Racing Conference 2013

Cenex LCV2012 Event Review


LowCVP Conference 2012

Cenex Hybrid and Electric Vehicles Conference 2011