Carbon neutral fleets by 2035. Is it possible? We look at the latest developments
In 2017, the government unveiled plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars in an effort to be carbon neutral by 2050 and improve air quality. Initially plans aimed for a date of 2040, but it sparked some criticism especially by environmental groups who said the policy would be leaving things far too late. That’s because about a third of emissions comes from transport (with energy consumption being the main culprit.)
This prompted a rethink and at a launch event for the United Nations Climate Summit, plans were announced to bring the ban forward to 2035, earlier if possible. There was also a move to include hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the proposal, something that wasn’t originally announced.
It means that come 2035, or sooner, only hydrogen or electric models will be permitted on the UK’s roads. While there is acceptance that this is the right thing to do, it does pose huge challenges for manufacturers, logistics firms through to households.
The biggest challenge is affordability. Switching a fleet of lorries is something that can’t be done overnight because of the cost. Until battery technology has fully developed, and the cost of raw materials comes down the prices won’t level.
Take cars as an example, even with a £3,500 government subsidy it still leaves around £23,000 to pay on a basic Nissan Leaf. That said, the Committee for Climate Change says it believes the cost of electric cars will be on a par with diesel and petrol ones by 2024/5.
How is this so? Well, when batteries first came on the market you could expect £775 per KW per hour, now it’s around $150, and by 2025 it should hit $115. That will be the tipping point for adoption according to the Union of Concerned Scientist.
But despite this, the business case is less well defined for lorries, depending on the size of vehicle and the numbers of vehicles you need. In short, the technology is still too expensive and companies can’t afford to pay more than they already do. The economics of total cost of ownership over the life-time of the vehicle dominate and are so very different to a family car – where there will also be a second hand market in time.
However, manufacturers say that with more legislation and regulation to fulfil, fossil fuel vehicles will fall out of favour and become more expensive, and battery prices will come down (as the numbers above suggest).
But there are still the sceptics who say manufacturers will still try and sell as many vehicles that aren’t electric despite the fanfare launches – they know the existing model of financing for diesel and petrol vehicles works after all. It’s therefore easy to see why critics say it will take a major shift from across the industry before haulage companies will do their bit.
So, what about incentives? Well in Norway, where is it trying to drive out fossil fuelled cars by 2025, it’s introduced far reaching measures to help build momentum. Road tax was lowered, tolls were removed, free parking given. VAT was also lifted in 2001 and caused a significant jump in sales – 60% of cars sold in 2019 were electric. It now has the largest per capita plug-in fleet in the world. It’s spurred on other initiatives and research, like aiming to introduce electric powered aircrafts.
But of course, this is all about the domestic car user taking short trips - getting to work, taking trips to the supermarket and dropping off the kids at clubs. What about the lorry driver in all this?
Is it even practical to have e-lorries?
At the start of last year, DAF Trucks’ delivered its first electric lorry to Jumbo, the Netherlands based retailer, as part of a large-scale field test. The trial, using a lorry capable of a 50KM circuit from one charge, only included smaller drops between a distribution hub and local stores rather than anything long-haul. It was seen as a significant venture.
And DAF is not alone on innovation. Mercedez-Benz is famed for leading the way with its ‘eActros’ trucks, which have a range of 200km, and are now the basis for a new design called the ‘eEconic’, due to go into production in 2021. Its first use will be for waste collection in urban areas. In effect it will prove the concept that this technology can be efficient in a stop and go environment over 100km.
It shows that range is undoubtedly still a barrier for some companies and recharging even more of a headache. However, there are more than 300,000 points across the UK and counting and they will charge a car or van to 80% capacity in around 30 minutes. For lorries the infrastructure needs to catch up to match the potential scale but there is growth. And of course, the more lorries needing the points, the more points there will be.
In terms of recharging lorries, brands like Emoss, which makes e-buses and e-trucks for inner-city distribution says that you can fully recharge a battery in around 3-5 hours. That period of time will certainly take accurate management and control. Ensuring you get maximum range and include a return to the depot, have enough charging bays at the depot, and ensure schedules allow for charging will become a fine art.
But what about the running costs? It’s said that an electric motor is three to four times more efficient than fossil fuels, and maintenance is also said to be less hefty in price. Numbers from Go Ultra Low suggest that businesses or fleets switching to electric vans or cars can save an estimated 20-30% in upkeep and repair costs alone compared with petrol or diesel vehicles.
It seems these economics are contributing to the fact that two thirds of current EV registrations are for businesses or fleets. With Government grants available to help offset the cost of purchasing EVs for business, as well as savings on every journey undertaken, it’s possible the ambitious targets could be met at least by the companies running van fleets.
But one thing is for sure, this is a complex issue and no one organisation can solve it alone. How far we will get in the next ten years remains to be seen but certainly where there is a will, and a hefty bit of legislation behind it, there could be a way.