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Pressure is mounting to abandon diesel in the next couple of decades – and that will mean a wholesale move to electric motors. But, says Malory Davies, keeping all those batteries charged is going to need lots more generating capacity.

It’s all too obvious that the pressure to move away from diesel and embrace alternative fuels is increasing. Nothing spells out the political pressure more than the publication of a report by the National Infrastructure Commission in April which called for a ban on sales of diesel HGVs by 2040, at the latest, as part of a plan to make the road and rail freight industry carbon-free by 2050.

Commission chairman Sir John Armitt said the move was necessary to provide the freight industry with the certainty it needs to invest in new, green technologies and prepare for an environmentally friendly future.

The commission’s report “Better delivery: the challenge for freight” estimates that over the next 30 years heavy freight transport in the UK will increase by at least 27 per cent – and could rise by as much as 45 per cent.

And the number of miles covered by vans delivering goods could increase by as much as 89 per cent over the same period.

Freight on road and rail currently produces around nine per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. But if no action is taken the sector could be responsible for around a fifth of all allowed emissions by 2050, according to the report.

A key recommendation of the NIC is that the government should prepare detailed assessments of the infrastructure needed to enable the uptake of battery electric or hydrogen lorries, and for the energy regulator Ofgem to work with the freight industry to enable charging at depots by 2025.

This is not a negligible concern. Companies that want to run electric vehicles from their depots have been learning that the electricity supplies to the depots do not necessarily have the capacity to support charging batteries for a large number of vehicles. This is a problem that is likely to get worse as faster charging requires more power. For example, Volvo reckons that one of its truck batteries can be fully charged in ten hours with a 22kW alternating current. The same battery can be fully charged in a couple of hours – but that will take a 150 kW direct current.

There are ways of eking out the available resource. For example, UPS last year unveiled a new battery charging technology that allowed it to increase the number of electric vehicles operating from its central London site from 65 to all 170 trucks based there.

The system is based on a smart grid which uses a central server connected to each EV charge post as well as the grid power supply and the on-site energy storage.

The system adopts an “intelligent” approach to charging by spreading this throughout the night so that the building can use the power it needs to run the business of logistics (lights, sortation machinery and IT) and ensure that all EVs are fully charged by the time they are needed in the morning, but at the same time never exceed the maximum power available from the grid.

Given that there is also a general move from diesel to electric forklift trucks, the power demands on depots are set to increase dramatically over the coming years. And that in turn will put more pressure on the power suppliers to bring on generating capacity in time to keep pace with this growth in demand.

One of the factors that has made adoption of electric vans problematic is the weight increase. Drivers with a car licence are limited to driving vans up to 3.5 tonnes – but electric and hybrid vans are at a disadvantage as the battery pack takes up some of the available payload. Now the government has agreed that drivers with category B (car) licences should be able to drive vans up to 4.25 tonnes, provided they use alternative fuels.

These points were taken up by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in its recent report on the van market. It said: “Manufacturers are investing heavily to bring an exciting range of ultra-low and zero emission vans to market. While there is an increasing appetite for these vehicles, demand remains low, accounting for just 0.3 per cent of the market in 2018. To increase uptake, a number of barriers must be removed, including tackling range and payload anxiety and addressing the sector’s specific charging needs.”

Certainly, this year has seen an increase in the number of operators incorporating electric and hybrid vehicles into their fleets. And not surprisingly, this year’s CV Show highlighted the increasing range of alternatively fuelled vehicles now available.

DPD, for example, now plans to have more than 550 electric vehicles by 2021 – some ten per cent of its delivery fleet.

It is introducing the new fully-electric Mercedes-Benz eVito van to the fleet and has commissioned ten of the 3.2-tonne long-bodied versions of the van.

The vans will be used in London, where DPD currently has three all-electric depots: Westminster, Shoreditch and Hyde Park. The eVito will also play a part in a nationwide roll-out of DPD’s EV fleet later in the year.

The Mercedes-Benz eVito employs an electric motor which channels its 116 hp output to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transmission. It can be recharged in six hours which gives it a range of approximately 93 miles.

“It is an exciting time. The all-electric micro-depots have exceeded our expectations and we’ll soon have eight such sites in London,” said DPD chief executive Dwain McDonald. “We’ve got plans to add over 100 more EVs to our fleet in 2019 as we begin our roll-out across the UK. We will double that in 2020, and double it again in 2021 to over 550 electric vehicles.

“Effectively, we’re already in a position to grow as fast as the manufacturers can supply the vehicles, so the more UK vehicles that are available, the faster the roll-out will be.”

Facilities management company Mitie which plans to electrify 20 per cent of its fleet of smaller vehicles by 2020, is addressing the charging issue by using Pod Point as its charge point supplier.

Mitie operates a fleet of more than 3,500 compact vans and cars. The new vehicles will be deployed both into Mitie and client depot locations and allocated to employees who take their vehicle home after work.

Pod Point is installing 800 charge points at Mitie and client offices and employee homes by the end of 2020.

Some of the biggest delivery fleets are now used by the supermarkets for their home delivery services, but grocery delivery vehicles are generally weight constrained. Saving weight is a critical challenge to the point where passenger seats have sometimes been removed to save weight.

Nevertheless, Sainsbury’s is now trialling an electric van for home deliveries in central and east London from its online fulfilment centre in Bromley-by-Bow. The van, named Evie, is being used to deliver up to 30 orders a day. Sainsbury’s says the van has a range of 80 miles on a single charge and the ability to carry the same weight as a diesel vehicle. Charging is done overnight. Trials have just started of a second electric van, named Stevie. If these trials are successful, it plans to bring in additional electric vans to deliver in other areas.


Electric stars at the show

Electric vehicles were the stars of the show at the 2019 Commercial Vehicle Show. Both DAF and MAN had all-electric trucks on show while there are a host of all-electric vans with Peugeot unveiling its new Boxer electric.

The MAN CitE e-mobility concept truck is a 100 per cent electric truck with a low-entry cab for urban delivery operations. MAN said the truck has a payload of 6,300 kilos and a maximum range of about 100 kilometres. The engine has a power output of 395 PS (290 kW).

DAF exhibited the CF Electric FT tractor unit, which it has developed in partnership with VDL and is putting through field trials in the Netherlands.

The vehicle has a GCW of 37 tonnes and a range of 100 kilometres with a 170 kWh battery pack. Power output is 286hp (210 kW). DAF said the battery has a full recharge time of 30 minutes meaning that it could be recharged while loading and unloading.

DAF and MAN are not the only manufacturers testing electric or hybrid trucks. Mercedes is running trials of 18 and 25 tonne versions of an electric Actros with customers in Germany. Scania has a plug-in hybrid making night-time deliveries to McDonald’s restaurants in Stockholm. And Volvo has electric versions of the FL 16 tonner and the FE 27 tonner – both of which are designed for urban deliveries.

In the van sector, Peugeot unveiled a electric version of the Boxer – part of a strategy to offer electric versions of all its vehicles by 2023. Sister company Citroën is also used the show to debut its new Relay Electric. The vans will be offered with ranges of either 141 miles or 169 miles.

Philippe Narbeburu, senior vice-president, Light Commercial Vehicles Groupe PSA Business Unit said: “In line with our ‘Push to Pass’ strategic plan, we are continuing to electrify our entire range. This new offer is a major competitive advantage for our brands in a very competitive LCV segment. This is an opportunity to strengthen our leadership in Europe by meeting the new needs of zero-emission driving without giving up the useful services related to the demanding uses of our professional customers.”

The UK’s top selling van, of course, is the Ford Transit and Ford has been running trials of a plug-in hybrid version in London which is due to go on sale later this year. But, in April, the company also set out plans to launch an all-electric version of the Transit in 2021.

Ford unveiled a working prototype of the all-electric Transit at a “Go Further” event in Amsterdam earlier this year, saying: “The electric powertrain is being engineered to provide a practical daily driving range for city-based businesses, to be maintained in all weather conditions and throughout the working life of the vehicle.”

Ford is already involved in a joint project with StreetScooter to provide an all-electric solution targeted at last-mile delivery. The Transit-based StreetScooter WORK XL, assembled at the Ford plant in Cologne, features an all-electric powertrain and is currently in service with Deutsche Post DHL in Germany.



This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, June 2019.

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