An electric future for UK fleets
Mike Brown, director of industry collaboration & partnerships at the University of Salford, on how the transition to EVs will bring a number of opportunities for fleets.
Since the Treasury announced that company car drivers choosing an electric vehicle (EV) will pay no Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax in 2020-21, EVs have become a clear option for fleet operators.
This year, the Government had a watershed moment when it announced its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a UK target of net-zero by 2050. The transport sector as a whole is already under scrutiny, with ground transport accounting for 27% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, therefore the need to move to EVs must be a priority in the coming years.
The private sector has been responsive to this, with some of the biggest investments from vehicle manufacturers now being made into transitioning fleets from traditional to electric. But with multiple options out there, it begs the question for operators and consumers alike – which type of EV is best? Current sales point towards battery technology (BEVs) emerging as the option of choice, but these machines still require charging, so a reduction in emissions from electricity generation and supply, which account for 24% of our greenhouse gas emissions, is required for BEVs to make the biggest impact.
At the University of Salford, we have been working alongside major car manufacturers and energy providers to look at how EVs can form part of an integrated energy system known as Vehicle to Grid (V2G). The HAVEN (Home As a Virtual Energy Network) project tests how EVs combined with smart meters, flexible energy tariffs, and bi-directional EV charging, could feed electricity back into homes during times of peak demand. This new way of powering homes has the potential to reduce our domestic energy bills, relieve pressure on the grid infrastructure and potentially provide benefits to employees that take fleet vehicles home.
Further societal benefits from EV fleets can be seen through the impact on air quality in communities. It is estimated that the equivalent of 40,000 premature deaths annually can be linked to breathing in polluted air. EVs have the potential to considerably improve air quality from the obvious elimination of exhaust fumes, but there’s also the potential to reduce another source of particulate pollution; when vehicles use friction brakes they produce airborne particulates (brake dust). Regenerative braking in EVs can greatly reduce the need to use friction brakes and hence reduce the production of brake dust while also prolonging the life of brake pads.
Change can be difficult, but transitioning to electric fleets can also present opportunities. The UK has the potential to become a world-leader in the innovation, development and implementation of ‘green’ vehicle technologies – linking renewable energy to smart-connected cities through electric and automated vehicles.
What industry now needs to fuel this electric revolution is a strong talent pipeline. The University of Salford has developed an industry-relevant curriculum which gives students hands-on industry-experience through initiatives such as the Greenpower Electric Car Challenge. Here, they work in multi-disciplinary teams to design and build a single-seat electric car and then compete against teams from other universities, as well as industry.
While we believe BEVs may become the most popular solution, the approach may not suit all transport requirements. Long-distance road haulage and public buses, for example, may produce better green outcomes through technologies such as hydrogen-powered fuel cells. We’re also seeing the early steps towards the electrification of flight. Similar to small electric drones, companies are scaling-up these drones to carry passengers.
The future is definitely electric. Making the transition holds immense power for our infrastructure, our technological standing on the global stage, our carbon footprint, and most important of all – the health of our communities.