An electrified last mile – are we there yet?

There is still a long way to go to meet the UK’s electrification targets, says David Savage, associate vice president, UK & Ireland at Geotab

London, UK: All fleet managers considering a switch to electric vehicles have some core concerns spanning range, choice, price, transition speed and infrastructure. While the first four are showing steady progress, infrastructure remains a challenge.

The viability of electrifying last mile fleets and LGVs in the cold-chain industry must take into account a number of considerations: The first is the availability of local or en-route fast-charge points. Depot charging will likely be the preferred choice for larger-scale organisations, but many smaller businesses will not have the capital nor the physical space to create fleet-wide charging hubs.

David Savage, associate vice president, UK & Ireland at Geotab

The fear of queues of idle, drained vehicles waiting to charge is a huge inhibitor of EV adoption. Variables in pricing, separate parking fees and limited access hours further complicate things. The issue of available charging points is further compounded in suburban and rural areas where investment has failed to materialise – with authorities prioritising cities and urban areas instead.

This is of particular concern to distributors of fresh and frozen goods where roundtrips are longer. In turn, this means even more pressure on precise routing and load. Fortunately, the government has set out an aggressive £90bn investment in infrastructure alongside a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.

It is also important to consider the future impact on the electrical grid. Does our National Grid have enough energy to support a nation of EVs at peak charging times? What will the commercial models or subsidies look like for those who transition en masse? Is the current set up for buying and selling energy conducive to having hundreds and thousands of businesses with (for all intents and purposes) medium scale energy storage capabilities in their depot? It’s important that we, as an industry, voice these concerns and propose our own suggestions and solutions that will benefit both us and the environment.

The latter point should drive down the cost of new e-LGVs in the medium term as manufacturers get fully on board with the new electrified normal. However, how that cash is distributed across the country will be make or break for suburban/rural areas.

The last consideration is the pressure on fleet managers themselves to develop the right strategy and make the right transitional choices. Converting fleets (or even individual vehicles) requires a sizeable investment and decisions can’t be made lightly in an industry where margins are tight. Fortunately, there are free tools to help inform that decision-making process such as our own Electric Vehicles Suitability Assessment (EVSA), which offers EV adoption recommendations by matching existing fleet telematics data to real-world EV performance data.

Beyond the initial transition to electric, access to rich fleet data feeds to keep down operating costs will also be a must for fleet managers. Over the last few years, Geotab has been working with Gnewt – the UK’s only fully electric last mile delivery fleet – to deliver a telematics solution that would transform how it models and manages its fleet’s charging operations. The key to success was an API that provides cross-fleet visibility into state-of- charge and charging status.

Geotab has been working with Gnewt to deliver a telematics system that would transform how it models and manages its fleet’s charging operations

The integration of the Geotab platform into its on-site charging infrastructure provides Gnewt with immediate access to the most comprehensive vehicle and charging data possible. Real-time fleet insights, organised and verified in the cloud, allows the team to make informed, algorithmic calculations on how best to charge within the building – Gnewt has managed to increase the number of vehicles it is able to charge over the course of one working day from 30 to up to 80, while opening up new models for selling excess charge back to the grid at peak times.

Our ability to successfully electrify comes back to two areas – having the available infrastructure to make the leap, and then the data and plan to keep operations viable. These requirements and responsibilities lie on both businesses and local authorities’ shoulders.

It will take a truly concerted effort, large scale investment and collaboration to meet the 2030 targets. The technology and know-how is there, but there’s still a long way to go.
 

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