Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Electric Dreams?

Kirklees Councils Electric Vehicle Fleet
  The EU Seminar I went to in Rotherham on electric vehicles yesterday was illuminating in many ways. The capital cost of electric vehicles remains a key issue. There is still a significant premium cost above that of fossil fuelled vehicles. That is going to remain a significant barrier for many. The benefit of electric vehicles is the low revenue costs with a full charge overnight costing anywhere between £1-£2 to give 100 miles or more of motoring. With the life of the battery for new vehicles of at least 10 years you can see that there are sums to be done to work out the financial benefit in whole life cost terms for electric vehicles over petrol /diesel ones. I'm not convinced this work has been adequately done. I'm not going to attempt to do that here, but of course every time there is a fuel price rise the economics will change so there needs to be a predictive element to any calculations that are made.

The issue of 'well to wheel' came up with regard to carbon emissions related to the electricity used by electric vehicles. My own view is that there is a lot of lazy analysis by opponents of electric vehicles which doesn't fully take into account the benefits of overnight charging  using the spinning demand of the generators or the lower carbon mix from the use of wind energy generated at night. There are also the  plans to decarbonise electricity generation anyway so it makes sense to start to develop ways of storing energy that could be produced from a range of renewable technologies. Electric cars are part of the solution to our energy and transport problems.

Each local authority involved in the EU Programme was asked to provide information on how many vehicles the Council used, including the 'grey fleet' (employees own vehicles). For Kirklees this was 1050 vehicles including 1 x Electric 3.5 Tonnes Transit Tipper truck. This vehicle was purchased for emptying all the street bins around Huddersfield Town Centre and is a familiar sight to shoppers and it has a nice 'Tackling Climate Change' livery. It was  purchased as a result of one of our budget deals around 4 or 5 years ago and it is charged up every night at the Incinerator (sorry Waste to Energy Plant!) Effectively it is charged up by burning peoples household rubbish. Whatever your views about incineration , and my own are mixed, this is charging a vehicle at nil additional cost to the Council. Sadly the truck is still a lone electric addition to the Councils fleet.

One of the tangible frustrations Councillor Roger Stone of Rotherham had was the seeming reluctance/inability of the manufacturers present to lower the prices of their vehicles even with the 'tempting' carrot of the additional buying power offered by joint procurement. The story from the manufacturers is that there is not much if any margin on the product and production is not up to capacity yet anyway, so the opportunity to bring prices down is not high. The £5000 grant from the government obviously helps but there's still several thousand pounds above the costs of a petrol/diesel equivalent to find. Talking to one of the manufacturers I tried a different angle by asking what value they would place in marketing terms to a council that really went out of its way to promote electric vehicles. I suggested a package of measures:
  • lower fees for the licensing of taxis/private hire electric vehicles
  • Taxi ranks with electric charging points
  • Free on street parking for electric vehicles for the next 3 years
  • Charging points for electric vehicle at car parks
  • Section 106 agreements to install charging points on new developments
  • Promotion of the benefits of electric vehicles in council media and publications
  • More demonstration vehicles by the Council itself
These are just a few ideas but if Councils are to engage with electric vehicle manufacturers then joint procurement at this stage doesn't seem  a very fruitful or easy route, so other ways have to be explored which can help create a buzz (hum?) ampong the populus. We need imaginative policies which are about engaging with the industry to grab their enthusiasm and interest.  Councils need to show a genuine desire for a lasting partnership which goes on to deliver a significant concerntration of electric vehicle use.

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