Lack of grid capacity stalls electric vehicles

London, UK: Government ambitions to phase out petrol and diesel vans in favour of electric vehicles by 2030 will fail without government action to provide a charging infrastructure, says Logistics UK.

Denise Beedell, policy manager for vans and urban, Logistics UK, said: “With electric vehicles making up only 1% of all vans sold in the UK in 2019, bringing forward the ban on conventionally fuelled cars and vans by a further five years will cause additional difficulty for logistics businesses.

“While the logistics industry remains fully committed to transitioning to zero emission vehicles, with many operators already starting this process, an industry-wide adoption of the policy will only be possible if the government takes urgent action to support the reinforcement of power supply infrastructure required to run electric fleets, as well as introducing a fairer and more equitable way of funding grid reinforcements and energy upgrades.

“Currently, if a logistics business does not have sufficient energy supply to power its electric vehicle fleet, they must pay to upgrade the entire local electricity hub themselves which can cost more than £1million. This cost is on top of the premium to buy electric vehicles which are more expensive than conventionally powered vehicles; government action is needed to reduce these expenses.

“Logistics UK is also calling for hybrid vehicles to be excluded from the ban. Hybrids offer a practical bridging technology for van operators wishing to move towards greener fleets but who are operating in areas where access to charging infrastructure or electric vehicle model availability is limited.”

A new research project to explore the benefits of wireless charging for electric commercial vehiclesas been has been awarded £1.6m funding. The project led by Heriot-Watt University, Flexible Power Systems and City of Edinburgh Council, will examine issues surrounding the charging of electric LCVs and HGVs using wireless pads.

The use of the technology and dispensing with the need to physically plug-in a vehicle could be crucial to boosting el;ectic vehicle use, says project lead Professor Phil Greening, co-director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight based at Heriot-Watt University.

Instead of being manually connected to an electricity supply, wireless charging would enable vehicles to power-up while loading and unloading, as well as when parked. The project will also explore the potential of shared micro logistics hubs where fulfilment functions can be combined with charging.

The project’s main aim is to accelerate the transition to EV in commercial vehicle fleets by reducing the cost of charging the vans. The project will involve the building of the UK’s first wireless charging hub for light commercial vehicles, which will be installed at Heriot Watt University’s Edinburgh campus in early 2021, to service specially adapted vans from City of Edinburgh Council and Heriot-Watt’s estates team.

The technology has already been proven for mass transit applications and will be supplied by specialist firm Momentum Dynamics.

High-powered wireless electric vehicle charging is expected to have considerable benefits for commercial vehicle users:
• Faster starts to charging sessions with no downtime for plugging in – optimising vehicle use and creating bigger benefits from opportunity charging sessions
• No cables that could cause trip hazards or require maintenance
• Future proofing for the advent of autonomous vehicles (which will not have a driver to plug them in)

But Greening says the potential goes far further. “It’s inevitable that in the future we’ll see autonomous vehicles, and in the commercial vehicle world, I think that’s quite likely to come sooner rather than later.”

At the moment diesel still reigns supreme as the power choice for van operators accounting for almost 93% of vans registered in the European Union, including the UK, according to ACEA data. But the trend to electric power is evident even if from a low base. In 2019, demand for new electric vans grew by 22.9%, to reach 26,107 units, 1.2% of total EU light commercial vehicle sales. France and Germany were the biggest markets for these electric vehicles last year, making up almost 60% of all electric vans registered across the European Union.

Mercedes-Benz The E-Sprinter has several battery setups so that buyers can prioritise range or payload giving a range of 104 miles and a maximum payload of 891kg, or a 71 mile range with slightly over a tonne payload

The key driver for an increasing share of electric vans is low emission zones. The number of vans licensed to operate in the UK has grown by a quarter in ten years to 4.1 million vehicles so cleaning up their emissions – which now represent about 33% of all oxides of nitrogen and over 15% of the CO2 emissions from all road transport – has become an increasingly important focus for policy. The introduction of clean air zones in London, Birmingham and Leeds is only the start and other cities likely to follow. It adds impetus for fleet managers to consider low and zero emission vehicle options. Reducing CO2 emissions also makes business sense as lower carbon vehicles can be cheaper to run.

Rising public awareness about climate change and its impacts is adding to the pressure on both public and business operators to do – and be seen to do – everything they can to tackle this challenge. The delays to low emission zones prompted by the coronavirus should not give operators false hope that they will end. Low emission zones are one of the few means local authorities have to meet government targets to improve air quality and so are likely to expand.

Van manufacturers certainly see potential and almost all have a diesel-free offering, usually electric. And with electric fridges this makes for an easy refrigerated conversation although there are downsides. Electric vans typically cost more to purchase although this is offset by lower energy and maintenance costs and tax savings. Some operational changes will probably be likely because the range is more limited than that of a diesel powered vehicle, and further reduced if a fridge is fitted. There is also the need to build in sufficient time for battery charging.

Manufacturers stress that their electric vans are designed for last mile delivery. In some cases it seems this is literally all the van can do. Unlike the 300-plus mile range on a diesel-powered van, with refilling the tank taking minutes almost anywhere in the country, few electric vans will do much more than 150 miles, and even less in cold weather. Add a fridge and that range falls further.

A significant impediment to electric vehicles is the extended battery charge times which makes an extensive charging infrastructre all the more important. The majority of early designs used AC charging rather than direct DC charging, which is faster: as much as an 80% charge in 15 minutes. Not all plug-in cars and vans have a DC charging port and many hybrids can only charge via a standard AC electrical outlet. This is changing as vehicle manufacturers shift toward supporting DC charging methods and standardised systems.


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