Greening your fleet – examining the case for EV adoption

Thierry Grenut
22 April, 24

With road transport accounting for around a quarter of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions, a proportion that is threatening to rise, it has never been more imperative to transition away from the most polluting vehicles in favour of greener alternatives.

Adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is one obvious solution if we are to decarbonise our highways and head off the climate crisis. EVs are growingly popular in the UK, thanks to technology advances and supportive government policies. The country’s fleet operators are at the forefront of this trend, their EV acquisitions accounting for 53.3% of last year’s 2.3m new vehicle registrations. Research findings from energy company Centrica Business Solutions indicate that fleet owners are set to raise their EV spending by 50% within the next 12 months.

The incentives behind fleet EV adoption are numerous. With their simpler and more compact design, EVs use less money-consuming energy than alternatives powered by internal combustion. They have lower maintenance overheads, with a total cost of ownership that can be recovered within five to eight years, depending on the vehicle’s range. And of course, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut noise pollution in urban areas and are more recyclable.

So why delay?

There are nonetheless reasons why some fleet operators might be hesitant to migrate to electric transport. For one thing, the electrification of HGVs is progressing at a different pace to that of smaller vehicles, like cars and vans. eHGVs are still in relative infancy thanks to various challenges. They demand costlier and heavier batteries than smaller vehicles and suffer from a shortage of appropriate charging infrastructure on long-haul routes. The upfront capital costs of electric HGVs can be high, making it critical to weigh the total cost of ownership over the vehicle’s operational lifespan. They do at least have the same lower running costs compared with diesel vehicles, as well as less frequent maintenance needs and potential tax advantages.

The eHGV market will need to change. There are currently around 4,000 zero-emission trucks operational across Europe, but this will have to expand to 400,000 trucks by 2030 if the continent’s carbon emission targets are to be met. Today’s 2% of total truck sales will have to hit double-digit levels in short order.

It’s not just HGV fleet managers that might have EV reservations. Most of today’s EVs depend on lithium-ion batteries which come with the occasional propensity for overheating and catching fire. Commercial EVs can in any case expect to have a shorter lifespan than domestic ones due to the constant battery recharging that must be done.

There’s the matter of range. On a full charge, most EVs can only travel 300 to 400 miles before needing to stop and charge up. This can take up to 12 hours at a Level 1 charging station, should a Level 2 or Level 3 station be unavailable. This makes a world of different where hauling freight over long distances is involved.

Battery technology moves on

On the plus side, battery technology is evolving. Solid-state batteries promise nearly double the energy density of lithium-ion ones on the basis of weight, while permitting faster charging and in all probability increasing the safety and stability of cells. Being smaller and lighter means that manufacturers can put far more power in the same space, giving an EV or hybrid vehicle something like twice the range of one dependent on lithium-ion. This has radical implications for the commercialisation of the EV. But solid-state technology is a work in progress, and there are manufacturing and longevity hurdles to be overcome on the way to mass production.

Charging technology is also moving on. Electric drivers can now use ultra-fast charging or high-power charging (HPC) where available, giving them between three and seven times faster charging than conventional stations.

Fleet managers may well seek to evaluate how the potential of EVs sits alongside that of vehicles using biofuels. Both options, in truth, have merits and demerits. EVs have the edge in performance, and note should be taken of huge increases in the number of available charging points. Innovation is making batteries better and cheaper. EVs commonly have higher upfront costs than biofuel vehicles, but lower long-term operating costs. EV evangelists point to the impact that biofuel production has on the use of land resources, arguing that it impacts food production. But biofuel technology is also evolving in ways that might cut that impact.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are the future for some. At COP28, more than 30 countries supported the role of clean hydrogen in decarbonisation. EV batteries are many times heavier than biofuel or hydrogen cells and can take hours to fully recharge. Refuelling a hydrogen-powered vehicle takes around the same time as filling up a conventional petrol car.

Clearly there are no easy answers in determining how we can decarbonise road transport and enjoy greener fleets. But technology is evolving and options multiplying, offering hope to a logistics sector that wants to do its best to contribute to an environmentally friendly future.

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