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Deploying Electric Vehicles in Fleets

By / 3 years ago / Features / No Comments

Although by no means suited to all fleet applications, electric vehicles (EVs) are nonetheless becoming a more viable, practical and financially attractive option for fleets, according to Robert Evans, CEO of Cenex and current Chair of the Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Association (UK EVSE).  

In his role as CEO of Cenex, Robert is overseeing a team providing independent assessment of the full range of ultra low carbon vehicles, from EVs through to gas vehicles and more exotic hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  As Chair of the UK EVSE, Robert is working with the charge point providers and e-mobility scheme operators as they invest to support the roll out of infrastructure to support EV uptake and e-mobility market development. 

Uptake slow – not unsurprisingly

When Electric Vehicles (EV) entered the UK market, there was both interest and enthusiasm for the new technology and a perceived willingness from private motorists and fleet operators to give these unconventional vehicles a try. 

In reality the rate of early uptake has been slow to-date.  Not unsurprisingly, buying a vehicle represents a far greater commitment than offering positive comment after a test drive.  Fleet decision makers have been particularly conservative about deploying EVs, based on the many real and perceived barriers including high capital cost and range anxiety.  

Nevertheless, Government and industry players are committed to sustained effort to support the gradual uptake of plug-in vehicles in the market, resulting in an increased choice, awareness and growing uptake.

Cost – no longer a barrier

Last month the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) confirmed £200m has been set aside to subsidise the plug-in car grant, with additional funding available for vans. Although there had been fears that the government would scrap incentives, the continuation of the car grant at £5,000 per car until 2017, represents a sustained commitment on the part of the Government to continue to make EVs financially attractive during the early period of market uptake.   

Three key reasons stand out as drivers for fleets to adopt electric vehicles.  These include the greater variety (pure battery electric, plug-in hybrid and range extenders) and choice of vehicles now available from the main manufacturers, the fuel cost savings associated with substituting diesel with electricity and the continued presence of Government support via grants and fiscal incentives.  

Increased choice is driving competition between manufacturers and competition is helping drive down the purchase price of EVs ahead of further reductions expected as large scale investments in batteries and other EV components ensure production costs fall.  Increased choice is also driving the financial services sector to offer more flexible leasing services.    Learning from vehicles in operation is now finding its way into Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) models, with the leasing companies reporting EVs as being increasingly competitive with their diesel equivalents. 

The market situation for environmentally friendly vehicles is also more encouraging in that businesses and local authorities previously subject to financial constraints are now investing in vehicles and services and are reprioritising environmental initiatives that had taken a back seat during the recession, with its various dips and double dips.  In London, electric vans and private hire taxis are becoming more commonplace, reflecting green procurement initiatives taking effect.    

Infrastructure – no longer a barrier

One of the main original barriers to EV uptake, charging infrastructure, remains a ‘perceived’ barrier today with both private motorists and fleet operators concerned over range anxiety and limited public charging infrastructure. 

Infrastructure availability is however an area where great strides have been made.  Commencing in 2011, regional projects were established, called Plugged-in Places.  The eight original Plugged-in Places built momentum for charge point roll out across London, the North East, the Midlands, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the East of England, as well as Manchester and Milton Keynes. 

Applying the lessons learnt from the Plugged-in Places, from 2013, the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles created a national scheme that has helped add charge points in the South East, South West and Yorkshire.  Much of this infrastructure has gone into publically accessible cark parks in town and city centre car parks, railway stations and on major motorway routes.  Private businesses have also benefitted with examples including hotels and leisure facilities, car dealerships and businesses installing charge points at workplace car parks.

The emergence of rapid chargers offer flexibility in terms of the rate of charging. Although expensive to install, rapid chargers allow for either 80% charging in 30 minutes or effective topping up for partly charged vehicles in 10 to 15 minutes intervals. Ultimately this means that a vehicle can be topped up whilst the driver takes a short break.

Currently there are three standards for rapid chargers:

  • ChAdeMO: a dedicated DC rapid charger protocol from Japan
  • Combi or CCS System: a European standard which combines both fast AC and rapid DC charging in the same  vehicle socket arrangement
  • EN62196-2 Type 2 tethered plug: AC power at 43Kw

Many of the rapid charge points currently being installed across the UK have both ChAdeMO and Type 2 plug socket arrangements to cater for both Japanese and European models. CCS enabled equipment is also currently being rolled out.

Many fleets operate with drivers who park at their own home. The current Government domestic scheme allows for the home owner/tenant to apply for a domestic charger which is either heavily discounted (75% grant funding) or can even be free-of-charge. Although this removes the home charging barrier, the cost of electricity and who pays can still be a concern.

Smart metering of the charging point is available by either a separate communications enabled smart meter, or as a meter within a communications enabled charging point, which will generate the energy usage data required. The vehicle user can then log-in to the meter or charge point back office portal to gather the energy data to present to their employer to claim for electricity consumed.

For fleet operators with EVs on the go, public infrastructure can be accessed by membership schemes or by Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG). Membership scheme RFID cards can be managed in the same way as a fuel card; whereas the PAYG option can be offered by an RFID card or by using a smartphone application. Alternatively, some infrastructure operators offer a pay by phone option.

The complexities associated with the first introduction of charge points, including different standards and learning curves for electrical contractors, are now resolved.  The UK has one of the largest and best developed charge point markets in Europe and charge point providers certainly have the products and services that the fleet manager requires.    

Planning tools – availability increasing

Although the UK is certainly well equipped to handle EVs, EVs are not necessarily right for every Fleet.  Before considering EV deployment fleet managers need to research and plan for deployment.  Financial information on the impact of fiscal incentives is now readily available from both the dealers and the main leasing companies.  As noted above, the latter now have a better view on the key metric of Total Cost of Ownership, informed both by headline cost information and drawing on learning on costs from the EVs now operating with leasing company financial services. 

There are also a growing number of companies, Cenex included, who are offering a range of planning tools to aid fleets in assessing where to deploy EVs.  Route scheduling tools are one example currently being used to help fleets plan for EV use in ‘return-to-base’ and ‘park at the driver’s home’ operations.  These route scheduling tools have been commonplace among the large fleets for some time, delivering impressive financial savings through operational optimisation for delivery time and fuel cost savings.  For EVs, the algorithms that drive the analysis are adapted to take into account EV range and recharging opportunities.

Learning from field trials is also being leveraged to inform modelling and simulation of fleet operations using EVs.  Although the analysis can be complex, the output for fleets can be tailored to be readily accessible, as in the case of ‘traffic light’ reviews, which give a Red-Amber-Green assessment on EV applicability to a given application.  This approach utilises inputs from a fleet’s current operations, looking at fuel consumption and operating patterns, with the aim of rating alternative fuels and technologies (e.g. gas, hybrid, electric, etc) in terms of carbon emissions, air quality emissions, noise, reliability, economics, availability and practicability when compared with the standard diesel option. In this way 'Green' would be assessed as better than diesel; 'Amber' as equivalent to diesel; 'Red' as worse than diesel. 

The tendency has been to consider these approaches in terms of battery EV versus diesel equivalent but the emergence of plug-in hybrids is making the assessment more around diesel substitution with electricity and how this can be maximised.  Certainly, the continued evolution of low carbon technologies will require fleet decision makers to opt for tools and for service providers who can help them assess their operational and economic suitability to ascertain which options are worth adopting. 

Training for EV use

Many fleet engineers will have trained before EVs were introduced and some may have spent their careers to-date in diesel-only fleets or otherwise experiencing only LPG as an alternative.  Certainly training has been a barrier but courses are now available that offer both class room and practical hands-on training for EV service and maintenance.  Driver training is also now well advanced for EVs, including training using vehicle simulators that can help a driver to learn to drive for range and thereby overcome range anxiety.    

Getting behind the Wheel

The motor industry will always argue that the driving experience for an EV represents one of the key selling points.  Getting behind the wheel of an EV has never been easier for fleet managers, whether via demonstrators delivered from the local dealer, or thorough test drives at industry events like Company Car in Action and LCV2014.  Events like LCV2014 (www.cenex-lcv.co.uk) can be particularly useful for a fleet manager as they provide an overview on new technology developments, as well as having the main manufacturers and the charge point providers all at the same venue.   

Final Thoughts

The trend for vehicles to offer Plug-in capability is now well established and EVs are becoming a viable alternative to diesels for a range of fleet applications.  The main barriers of vehicle choice, cost and infrastructure availability are being gradually but effectively overcome.  We are now seeing the emergence of a thriving e-mobility services sector, working closely with the vehicle manufacturers to meet the needs of early adopter fleet managers.  These services include infrastructure supply, analysis services to aid planning scenarios and business case assessment, as well as training for staff from engineers through to drivers.   The success of this service sector will pave the way for similar services developing to supply gas and hydrogen vehicles over the next few years.  Right now however, the momentum is with EVs and electricity as the main alternative to diesel.  

To find out more, please visit www.cenex.co.uk and www.ukevse.org.uk

Julian Kirk

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