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Comment: SSE’s Kevin Welstead on overcoming hurdles in fleet electrification

Kevin Welstead, sector director EV of SSE Enterprise, on the hurdles that fleets face on the path to net zero and how to overcome them. 

Kevin Welstead, sector director EV of SSE Enterprise

2021 provides real impetus for companies that are serious about getting on the road to net zero. The UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow in November, something my company SSE is very proud to be a major partner for, and the Government is keen to position itself as leading a green revolution.

So where should the focus be? Well, transport would be a good place. In the UK, 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from transport – a figure which has been reduced by just 3.7% since 1990. Comparatively, emissions from the grid – the second biggest producer of CO2 in the UK – have fallen by 62% in the same time period.

As businesses with vehicle fleets face increasing pressure to transition from fossil fuel to zero-emissions vehicles, the electrification process will be a significant logistical speed bump for fleet and operations managers.

So what are the challenges that businesses should consider when it comes to fleet electrification? How do they get past them? And, most importantly, how do they ensure a swift, efficient and cost-effective switch?

The price is right – or is it?

The first hurdle to fleet electrification is probably the most obvious one: cost. Most businesses that rely on fleet vehicles will likely have begun to do their sums and will know that transitioning a fleet, regardless of size, will come with upfront costs and the need for potentially sizable investment.

What both fleet managers and business owners need to keep in mind though is that EV running costs can typically offset any immediate financial outlay. For starters, EVs have lower servicing and maintenance costs, a zero rate of Vehicle Excise Duty and are cheaper to refuel than petrol or diesel vehicles – all of which will drive down operating costs over time.

One way organisations can look to reduce their initial cash-investment size is to consider third-party providers to supply energy-as-a-service (EaaS), whereby customers pay for an energy service without having to make any upfront capital investment. This can help fleet managers eliminate the preliminary costs of installing and upgrading on-site electric infrastructure needed to power an electric fleet and can play a significant role in supporting the smooth operational roll-out of new vehicles.

Navigating emerging technologies

With big brands such as Centrica and Royal Mail committing to the transition of their fleets by purchasing thousands of EVs, the EV supply chain is scrambling to catch up with demand. As a result, swathes of new EV technologies are beginning to flood the market. Having this range of services and products to choose from is no bad thing, but at the same time it can make the EV market difficult for new entrants to navigate and muddy the already complex process of understanding what is best suited to their needs.

Understandably, fleet managers might feel overwhelmed trying to get to grips with and understand the rapidly evolving technologies on offer and there’s plenty of considerations to make  from the more general decision of which type of charging to invest in – AC or DC – to the more granular detail of understanding the structures that sit behind the technology.

However, help is out there. Businesses and consultants with the relevant knowledge and experience can dig deep to understand a company’s needs and provide a bespoke cost-effective solution to fit their fleet. Some service providers can even offer cradle-to-grave services – from energy-generation assets to charging technologies to the vehicles themselves – as a turnkey solution to a company’s fleet. Decision-makers should know they’re not alone in making their decisions.

Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear

Dialling up the pressure gauge for fleet managers is the Government’s announcement that the ban on sales of new fossil fuel vehicles will be brought forward to 2030. Considering this is only a couple of replacement cycles away for most vehicle fleets, it’s no time at all.

In 2018, the automotive industry was left playing catch-up when it adopted new EU requirements in relation to the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) too late in the day. Similarly, making the transition from fossil fuel to electric vehicles can’t be achieved overnight and fleet managers must not be tempted to leave making the switch to the last minute.

Taking time to plan, research the market and implement long-term strategy will be fundamental for businesses if they are to successfully transition to EV and avoid making the same mistakes. For fleet managers in particular, working with industry experts to better understand the options open to a business will set a solid foundation to build upon. This is by far the best way to future-proof their fleet for success.

Driving a more sustainable future

With COP26 on the horizon and the UK ushering in the next wave of the green industrial revolution, it’s vital that businesses and organisations of all sizes are engaging with the bigger picture when it comes to decarbonisation.

What’s undoubtedly clear is that businesses with vehicle fleets have a significant role to play in enabling a greener future. The transition to EVs is now inevitable and businesses and organisations can look to reap significant environmental and operational benefits that will serve customers and employees alike for years to come if they embrace it now.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to fleet electrification – every business has different needs and, therefore, will need to gauge which approach is right for them. What is universal though is that we’re all on the road to net zero together and no one wants to be left behind.

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