Expert Panel: Ending transport's contribution to climate change


The UK’s net-zero emission target will no doubt mean further pressure on organisations to end their contribution to climate change and air pollution. Our expert panelists Duncan Chumley, Stuart Thomas and Danny Winn discuss the challenges and solutions to achieving net-zero emission operations

The UK has passed into law a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This replaces the previous target of at least 80 per cent reduction from 1990 levels.
Net zero means any emissions that can’t be cut are balanced by schemes to offset an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or using technology like carbon capture and storage.
With transport a major contributor to polluting emissions, the sector will no doubt be targeted with stricter policies in the years to come.
For fleets daunted by the prospect of achieving zero emissions, what advice would our panelists give?
Stuart Thomas from the AA says that while zero emission ambitions are both laudable and necessary, fleets and businesses will need to be given time to make the transition. He says: “Discussions about bringing targets forward from 2040 to 2030, or even 2025, are only relevant if there are enough appropriate vehicles on the market to meet the needs of even the most niche fleet operator.
“Half of respondents in a recent industry poll said they were against an outright ban on fossil fuels. However, that doesn’t mean that organisations are not ready to make the change. More than a third of those interviewed for our Operational Fleet Report last year expected to invest in alternatively-fuelled vehicles in the coming five years. We anticipate this year’s data will show an even higher result.”
When it comes to transitioning to a zero-emission fleet, Duncan Chumley from Daimler Fleet Management advises to focus on the “quick wins” – the vehicles that can easily be replaced – while also keeping in mind long term plans. “Having a long term replacement focus will allow you to stay one step ahead of emerging technology in the alternative fuel market,” Duncan says.
Duncan also advises to look at the vehicles that run low miles and work to a routine that suits electric vehicles. “Your lease company will be able to show you Whole Life Costs based on the pence per mile it costs to run an EV against a traditional ICE engine. The savings in running costs will help you to make some obvious changes that will have an immediate impact in starting your journey to zero emissions,” adds Duncan.
Research and learning from others is important before making any transition to electric, believes Stuart. He says: “Talk to the early adopters, those who’ve already invested, and find out what went well and what they would do differently next time. Engage with industry suppliers across the whole life of the vehicles; it is no use basing decisions on the initial purchase or rental cost. Organisations will need to explore the implications on servicing schedules, maintenance regimes and downtime management.”
Stuart also highlights the importance of assessing routes: “It is also worth doing some analysis of the most-driven routes for fleet vehicles. Do they spend more time on motorways or in urban areas? Are they in use 24/7 or do they have a rest period? Do they stop regularly in lots of shorter journeys or undertake one longer one? The answers to all these questions will help determine the best fleet mix in terms of vehicle and fuel types.”
Before switching to a zero-emission fleet, the workplace charging infrastructure must be considered, but fleets should not be put off. Danny Winn says: “The scale of the initial cost of upgrading your grid capacity and power distribution to charge the new fleet vehicles can be disheartening. However, by looking at power infrastructure holistically and using a dynamic energy management system, such as Schneider Electric’s Load Management System, you can minimise upfront costs and unlock the inherent capability of your infrastructure. This will mean you can scale your electric fleet, generating substantial savings that can be used when larger upgrades are required.”

Plug-in hybrid vehicles

The subject of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) provokes debate. Some believe that they are not a good environmentally-friendly option because there is nothing to stop people from only using them in petrol/diesel mode, rather than charging up and using its electric capability. Others believe that they are a good zero emission option for those with short commutes when used properly (ie fully charged and used mainly in electric).
The government too has their reservations, as they have withdrawn grants for buying PHEVs to encourage more people into pure electric vehicles.
Giving his thoughts on PHEVs, Danny Winn says: “Fundamentally government subsidies of PHEVs have fallen short of their overall aim of a reduction in C02 as a result of transport emissions. Ultimately it has proven almost impossible to mandate for the behaviour of drivers with complete accuracy.
“Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have to be charged, so naturally guarantee a reduction in CO2. With more affordable vehicles coming to the market, BEVs should be more obtainable. However, businesses need to improve the use of the data at their disposal. Fleet managers can use smart chargers to monitor charging at the driver level. By combining this with mileage data, it should be fairly straight forward for a business to incentivise ‘electric miles’ in PHEVS.”

A mix of fuels

Rather than ruling out any particular fuel or powertrain, choosing the right mix of fuels to fit business needs is the right way to approach vehicle choice, believes Stuart Thomas. He says: “We are in favour of fleets and organisations being able to select the right vehicle, using the most appropriate fuel, for the specific job at hand. Considering all the environmental, health, commercial and logistical factors, this could mean a Euro 6 diesel model, pure electric or PHEV, or indeed hydrogen or CNG-fuelled vehicles.”
Duncan believes that PHEVs have an important role to play in the lowering of fleet emissions as a whole. He explains: “The government has tried to encourage company car drivers to look at pure electric and have introduced some tangible incentives to opt for pure electric. However, not every driver will find that a pure EV is right for them, and with interesting options with both diesel and petrol PHEV choices in cars and manufacturers now offering PHEVs in their LCV range, introducing PHEVs to your fleet can be a good starting point when looking to lower your fleet emissions. Again it is important to ensure that any low emission replacements are fit for purpose and suitable alternatives to any current ICE fleet vehicles.”
Keeping PHEVs charged properly should be something that is mandatory, and there are methods that fleet managers can take to ensure they are, says Duncan. “Fleet Managers could try a soft or hard approach to enforcing the responsibility,” he says. “A soft approach would centre around communication and reporting. Asking drivers to submit their consumption of electric vs petrol/diesel each month will add gentle pressure to do better. A hard approach could be limiting the fuel card allowance from £50 or £100 per month, or a hard stop for those who don’t plug in at all.”
Stuart agrees that drivers need to be educated on how to get the most from their vehicles: “For those who have embraced
PHEV on their fleets, it is important that drivers are given support in how to get the best value from their vehicles. We recommend that drivers are given a thorough briefing at any vehicle handover, or when they step into a new vehicle for the first time, which should include information on the safety critical features, as well as fuelling or charging as appropriate. Not only is it good practice and potentially saves money, it also helps meet duty of care obligations.”

Grey fleet

Grey fleet could be a barrier to a company achieving zero emissions, as staff driving their own vehicles for work purposes tend to be older and less green. So what can be done to make grey fleet journeys greener?
One idea is to make mileage reimbursement based on how ‘clean’ a vehicle is. Danny Winn says: “We naturally look to government to drive change, but large business are substantial polluters and employ huge numbers. They have the opportunity to change company policy and incentivise environmental-friendly behaviour from employees, both in and out of work. This is not simply to improve energy efficiency and cost but to help shape wider society.”
Grey fleet is not going to disappear any time soon, but incentives do have a role to play in getting staff to travel greener. Stuart Thomas explains: “Many organisations do not have the resource to manage their own fleet, or it just doesn’t stack up financially for business or driver to take up a company vehicle. As such, we will continue to see significant numbers of privately-owned or leased vehicles being used for business purposes for many years to come.”
“It is up to each organisation how they choose to incentivise their drivers to make the switch into ‘greener’ vehicles and we wouldn’t want to prescribe a ‘one size fits all’ approach, as it will very much depend on the types of journeys being undertaken, the mileage, the journey and driver profile and a number of other aspects besides.
“However, we do see incentives given for employees who choose public transport or active travel for particular journeys and it is conceivable that, at a government level, decisions could be taken to offer both ‘carrot and stick’ nudges towards individuals choosing electric or alternative fuels when they switch.”
Having a policy in place is an important way to manage the environmental impact of grey fleet. Duncan Chumley says: “A grey fleet policy should ensure that any grey fleet drivers using their own vehicles are driving a safe, compliant car or van that is fit for purpose.
“Part of your grey fleet policy might see you introduce a requirement whereby grey fleet drivers can only use their private cars if those vehicles are of a certain age and have low enough CO2 emissions. Grey fleet drivers could also be encouraged to look at alternatives to their own vehicle use if pool cars and other methods of transport are made easily and readily available. Most fuel reimbursement schemes are based on CO2 emissions so if you are looking to decrease the amount of grey fleet usage of less clean vehicles then a “carrot” approach of rewarding grey fleet drivers who use EVs and PHEVs on company business with beneficial mileage reimbursement could be a good first step to cleaning up your grey fleet.”

Charging infrastructure  

Knowing where electric vehicles will charge is vital in the decision to adopt a zero emission fleet. Will staff charge at home and be reimbursed, or is it worth putting in place workplace charging stations?
The government’s Workplace Charging Scheme is a voucher-based scheme designed to provide eligible applicants with support towards the upfront costs of the purchase and installation of EV chargepoints. The contribution is limited to the 75 per cent of purchase and installation costs, up to a maximum of £500 for each socket, up to a maximum of 20 across all sites for each applicant.
“Before making a large investment in on-site charging infrastructure, or selecting a charging partner, fleet managers should assess specific needs,” says Stuart Thomas. “This will include analysing routes and utilisation, assessing required vehicle types, reviewing driver behaviour and looking at the financial case for each of the options.
“Speaking with early adopters in their sector and engaging with suppliers at the start of the process can help organisations avoid spending time going down rabbit holes sourcing information which just isn’t relevant to their circumstances. Fleet managers should be clear with suppliers about everything they need a charging infrastructure to do, as well as the bugbears they want to avoid.”
Business continuity when charging is essential, according to Danny Winn. He explains: “The charging market is already heavily saturated. While the industry is set for exponential growth, we will see consolidation in the years to come. This makes business continuity a top priority; the last thing managers need is stranded assets with no after sales support. Drivers are rightly nervous of chargers – in many cases the medium and low voltage equipment is done at the lowest possible cost as it is less visible than the charger but is just as crucial.
“Ensuring your charging infrastructure is smart, interoperable and is made by a manufacturer who specialises in energy management will ensure your charger is for life – not just for the short term.”
Involving third party experts when looking at setting up your charging infrastructure is important, believes Duncan: “Charge point providers can provide invaluable advice on the best place to position charge points, the most suitable tariffs to charge your EV fleet at the right time of day, and can advise on what systems have worked best with customers that have similar sized fleets. Ultimately you will need to look at peak usage to ensure that whenever possible vehicles are being charged when not in use. Dedicated EV charge zones will show your employees that your business is taking considerable steps to moving your fleet towards zero emissions.”