No ‘plug and go’ solution – real strategies are needed for electric vehicle fleet transition

The UK Government has set the world’s most ambitious climate change target to reduce emissions by 78 per cent when compared to 1990 levels. This sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gases to ensure that the country remains on track to achieve its net zero carbon target by 2050 – and a huge part of this journey will be Britain’s transition to electric vehicle usage.

The biggest challenge in moving to widespread electric vehicles remains the infrastructure needed to support them. £1.3bn is being invested into electric vehicle charging points across England, while a further £500m of government funds is being provided for battery development – plus another £525m is earmarked to provide the physical infrastructure required to meet the increasing demand for electricity that the EV revolution will bring.

However, the challenges are significant for organisations that rely on large vehicle fleets – such as blue light services. While 2030 still seems to be a long way off, the transition from fossil fuels to an electric vehicle fleet cannot happen overnight – and in terms of delivering estate-wide CO2 reduction, it is not much time at all.

Julie Mortimer (pictured above), Director and lead for blue light services at independent property, construction, and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard, has been leading the way on a unique partnership between the firm and global technology firm Siemens to deliver effective electric vehicle transition strategies for blue light clients.

Julie said, “So far, the automotive industry has focussed largely on domestic EV use, but there remains reasonable doubt that current technology will be able to provide the reliability, range and load capacity required by blue light services. Our partnership with Siemens brings together the technology and built environment expertise of both organisations to develop effective and efficient plans for the move to electric fleets, aligned to each service specific requirements.”

Where to start: Identifying the base line

Response vehicles need to be operationally ready at all times, so it is critical that the infrastructure and vehicle use strategies are well defined from the start. The beginning of any strategy involves taking stock of the current situation. First of all, an understanding of what will be required to provide effective service needs to be gained – from number of vehicles through to personnel practices.

As part of this understanding exercise, wider opportunities are able to be identified across the existing estate for a range of things, which will feed into overall energy and cost savings for the client.

Julie said, “Like with any project, the base line of what we are working with is central to building a truly effective strategy. When we first begin working with clients to develop these, we begin with the ‘reduce, produce, procure, protect’ plan – first looking at how organisations may be able to reduce the overall energy demand and maximise the potential savings that are already available.

“We next look at any opportunity the client may have to generate their own energy to supply vehicle fleets. Where there remains a shortfall of capacity, we will assist in navigating the best procurement options to purchase a secure priority energy supply. And finally, we work to protect energy supply making sure that there is an understanding of what back-up supply will be needed and how energy will be stored and easily accessed.”

Can we buy vehicles, plug them in and get going?

Initial transition may start with testing a small fleet of electric vehicles by replacing non-urgent response vehicles as the existing fleet expires. Unfortunately, it is not a ‘plug and go’ solution, as in addition to ensuring sufficient energy capacity to charge vehicles, the types and locations of charging all need to be planned, as well as maintenance of the EV vehicles.

Charging an electric vehicle fleet is likely to require a new approach to vehicle management, especially for response vehicles where reliability is of paramount importance. A vehicle strategy needs to allow for vehicle types, location of charging infrastructure, types, and number of vehicle charge units (such as standard, fast, or lightning), shift coordination, remote charging capability and new standard personnel practices that protect operational delivery.

Julie said, “The transition strategy needs to account for multiple vehicle types and uses. Some uses will be non-negotiable, the vehicle must be operationally ready at all times and will often be in operation 24/7, whereas other vehicle usage will allow for non-peak charging. The key to ensuring economically sustainable charging will be to understand which vehicles will need ‘lightning’ charging, and to ensure that the end of shifts do not result in a peak energy demand at premium rates.”

There are options for controlled charging through a microgrid that feeds back information through a force’s own control centres. This enables energy load and distribution to be managed digitally across the service’s wider estate.

Lastly, a key consideration will be the increased demand on the electric grid as a result of increased electric vehicle usage, which is where the initial stages of identifying opportunities for generation of energy on the existing estate and effective procurement will be incredibly important for service vehicles to ensure that they never lose access to power and can continue to serve the public.

Funding and time investment will be central to any strategy

There is no doubt that this move to electric fleets is going to take both time and money, but both forms of investment will be worth it for a seamless transition. With an effective strategy in place, emergency services do not necessarily need to wait until they have allocated capital to commence their transition. With identified savings across the wider estate, it is possible to secure funding support, which would enable investment now and payback through savings in energy costs.

Plus, while there is a lot to consider, if well planned there is a tangible opportunity for a force to both save money and potentially complete the transition to EV fleet with a better than cost neutral outcome.

When it comes to looking at energy supply, it is important to look wider than just the requirements of the operational fleet. The charging of staff and visitor vehicles needs to be allowed for – particularly as more and more individuals move to electric cars for personal use. With this, a consideration on billing energy consumption back to individuals must form part of the overall strategy.

Julie concluded, “With just over 100 months until 2030, when the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will come into effect, there is much to be considered, decided, developed and implemented. There will need to be a significant investment of time and funding to effectively transition to electric fleets, but it is really important that blue light services start demanding the infrastructure and vehicles needed now, rather than waiting until later.

“Challenge drives innovation and we are certain to see this coming to the forefront over the coming years. There is a hugely exciting opportunity to embrace the new energy revolution, which will both save the planet and reduce costs across the public estate.”

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