Climate change is accepted as one of the greatest threats to our planet. Vehicles are one of the key emission sources of carbon dioxide – an important greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Vehicles also have a negative impact on local air quality by producing pollution emissions that can affect our health.
In order to help drive down pollution, the government has introduced various charging schemes such as the Central London Congestion Charge and the proposed Low Emission Zone (LEZ). Such schemes generally aim to ensure low emission vehicles are exempt from the highest charges. Therefore cutting emissions helps protect the environment whilst saving you money.
At the same time, companies are taking more responsibility for their impacts on the environment, and integrating sustainable practices into various aspects of their business. Decisions about what vehicles are purchased and how their fleet is operated is becoming increasingly important.
It is essential for companies to be aware of the vehicles that are cheaper to run, with low carbon dioxide emissions and good fuel economy (which also means much lower company car tax). The new car efficiency labels help with guiding drivers to cleaner vehicles, rating vehicles from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient).
Taking a vehicle into the Central London Congestion Charge Zone currently costs £8 per day. The western extension to the Congestion Charge area started on 19th February 2007.
At the moment vehicles exempt from the Congestion Charge include electric cars , petrol-electric hybrids and other vehicles on the Powershift register (such as authorised LPG conversions).
This system is planned to change from 2008 when cars in car tax bands A and B will be exempt – ie. cars that emit less than 120g/km CO2. Both systems only relate to cars registered after 1st March 2001.
There are currently also proposals to designate Greater London as a Low Emission Zone (LEZ). If agreed, this will commence in February 2008. The Low Emission Zone would aim to reduce air pollution by discouraging the most polluting vehicles from driving within Greater London. These are generally older, diesel-engined heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), buses, coaches, heavier vans and minibuses.
More resources are listed in this leaflet to help you choose a low emission, energy efficient vehicle that will help you to save money.
Petrol has been the most popular fuel for cars in the UK for many years; petrol engines are generally quiet and smooth, they are responsive and their performance is good. Unleaded petrol is currently slightly cheaper than diesel. Petrol engines pump out less toxic emissions than diesel but emit around 10% more carbon dioxide. Unfortunately at the moment there is no single source of fuel which can compare with petroleum in terms of its instant bulk availability, energy density and (relative) cheapness.
Diesel engines are more economical than petrol engines, therefore they also emit less carbon dioxide. However diesels emit more particulates and nitrogen oxides than petrol – although diesel engines with a particulate trap help prevent emissions of sooty particulates. Diesel engine technology has seen some remarkable advances in recent years, giving us diesel engines that are quiet, refined, cleaner and with more instant response.
Over recent years, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) has been a viable fuel option in the UK. LPG produces fewer emissions than petrol and diesel but fuel consumption is worse. It’s been possible to convert many existing cars to run on LPG by after-market conversions, and some manufacturers have had new cars in their range that are dual-fuel, which are designed to run primarily on LPG with petrol back-up. There is a reasonable network of filling stations. LPG, and natural gas in heavier vehicles, has been an attractive proposition in the past primarily due to its cheaper cost, as it has enjoyed less fuel duty. However there is no guarantee that the Chancellor will maintain this in the future, and although there are some emissions improvements over petrol, LPG is still derived from a fossil fuel and therefore still releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Petrol-electric hybrid vehicles run on a combination of a conventional petrol engine and an electric motor powered by an energy storage device such as a battery pack. In simple terms they work on the principle that an electric motor provides the power at low speeds such as in urban driving (but currently only for a short range) and they switch to petrol for driving at higher speeds. The batteries are recharged while driving and hybrids use regenerative braking, which means that energy is put back into the battery when braking, which improves energy efficiency.
Hybrid technologies improve fuel efficiency and therefore provide considerable fuel savings compared with a normal petrol vehicle – as well as carbon emissions savings. While models might cost more than conventional cars, running costs can be two-thirds that of equivalent petrol-fuelled vehicles.
Because of their lower carbon dioxide emissions, hybrids also benefit from reduced vehicle excise duty and are treated favourably in Budgets. In addition they are exempted from the London Congestion Charge. However at the moment there are a limited number of hybrid vehicle choices, and only petrol-electric hybrids are currently available; diesel-electric hybrids will achieve even better fuel consumption – watch out for these appearing in the not-too distant future.
Electric cars use a battery and electric motor to power the vehicle, meaning they have no emissions at the point of use. Due to the capacity of the battery, their range is normally limited to about 40-60 miles between recharges, which means they are only really suitable for city-based users. Electric vehicles can be recharged by plugging them into an existing electrical socket, and some city councils are installing electric recharging points in car parks or on-street. However, they are only truly ‘green’ if they are recharged with electricity from renewable sources such as windfarms.
Electric cars are not subject to road tax and, as an added bonus for London drivers, they enjoy 100 per cent congestion charge discount. Drivers living in areas where they have to pay for residential parking permits might also find that they get a discount on this cost. Viable ‘family-sized’ electric vehicles with a good range and speed are still around the corner while hybrids, bio-diesel and bio-ethanol vehicles are here now.
Biofuel has traditionally been in the form of biodiesel, currently available in various types and qualities, primarily from vegetable oils, such as from recycled cooking oils, and from crops such as rapeseed oil, both of which avoid the carbon emissions of mineral diesel. However there is no wide availability, unless in industrial quantities, and it is more commonly used to blend with normal diesel. There’s at least one company that is currently building up a world-wide biodiesel production and refining capacity but it’s not ready yet. All vehicles should be checked for their compatibility for running on biodiesel, and it should be noted that standards of biodiesel can vary considerably.
Ethanol and methanol are viable vehicle fuels which are an alternative to petrol in internal combustion engines, giving considerable potential carbon emission benefits. Vehicles usually require adaptation to convert from petrol to ethanol if the concentration exceeds 10% (E10). Recently, biofuels of higher concentrations that can run with petrol have been introduced in the UK. The Saab BioPower range and the Ford Focus Flexi-Fuel range are currently the only two new vehicle ranges on the market that are designed to run on bioethanol (E85).
Hydrogen fuel cells are seen by many people as the fuel of the future. Various manufacturers are developing prototype cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells however they still demand much research and development to be commercially viable in vehicles and it will be a number of years before they are widely available, together with the fuel and its necessary infrastructure, in the UK.
Camden Council’s New Ride is a park and charge infrastructure system for recharging electric cars, electric scooters and bikes. These are located at Drury Lane (Covent Garden) & Saffron Hill (Hatton Gardens) NCP car parks. Additional electric charging facilities can be found at Bloomsbury Square underground car park.
Camden Council plans to install a number of on-street recharging points for electric vehicles in the south of the borough this year.
Westminster has almost 50 off-street recharging points available to Masterpark green card scheme members in 13 car parks – Abingdon, Broadwick, Cavendish Square, Chiltern, China Town, Harley, Knightsbridge, Leicester Square, Marble Arch/Park Lane, Pimlico, Queensway, Soho and St John’s Wood.
The Council has introduced two on-street electric vehicle recharging points in Wellington Street and Southampton Street in Covent Garden. These posts are free to use for holders of Westminster’s Electric Ecomark, however a £50 deposit is needed for the cable and key (fully refundable on return of the cable and key).
A car club provides its members with quick and easy access to a car for short-term hire. Members can make use of car club vehicles as and when they need them. Businesses can reduce the cost of owning, running and administering company pool cars by joining a car club as a corporate member. Encouraging car sharing reduces the number of cars on the road and miles driven by filling empty seats. Car sharing reduces the number of commuter cars at peak times so eases congestion.
Green fleet management helps organisations lower running costs, reduce vehicle emissions and enhance corporate social responsibility. Key issues include managing fuel consumption, reducing mileage, driver education, use of cleaner fuels and energy efficient vehicles.
Congestion Charge and LEZ: www.tfl.gov.uk
Electric recharging points in central London: www.newride.org.uk
Co2 emissions/mpg data: http://carfueldata.direct.gov.uk/
Road tax rates: www.gov.uk/calculate-vehicle-tax-rates
UK Centre of Excellence for low carbon and fuel cell technologies: www.cenex.co.uk
Green car development: www.lowcvp.org.uk
Ecolane Transport Consultancy: www.ecolane.co.uk