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Overcoming the Challenges of Electrifying Commercial Vehicles & HGVs

As the number of fully electric cars on UK roads passes the 1 million milestone, Giles Benbow, Senior Manager, Business and Partnership Development at Mer, takes a look at the less explored area of electrifying commercial and heavy goods vehicles, and the challenges that fleet managers need to overcome.

IKEA electric vehicle charging at Mer charge point

Why don’t we hear more about the electrification of commercial vehicles? Commercial vehicles have been rather neglected when it comes to talking about the transition to electric transport. But, if we look at the drivers behind the electrification of transport in general – reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the need for cleaner air, decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels, to name a few electrifying commercial vehicles is right up there in terms of the benefits it will deliver. So, why the hesitance in moving ahead with the transition of commercial vehicles to electricity? The answer to that lies in the many challenges faced by commercial vehicle owners and operators. There is no getting away from the fact that there are challenges involved, but it is by no means impossible 


What is Driving Electrification? 

The transport sector emits a higher proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gas than any other sector. According to government figures, it is responsible for 26% of the UK’s total emissions. Within the sector, HGVs account for 19% of domestic transport emissions – 4.3% of overall UK greenhouse emissions – and LCVs are responsible for 16% of emissions. Together they emit 34 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).  Electrifying the UK’s commercial vehicles will take a great deal of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. Little wonder why it has become government imperative and subject to legislation.  

 Under the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, sales of new, non-zero emission HGVs weighing 26 tonnes and under will be phased out by 2035, and all new HGVs in the UK will be zero-emission by 2040. 

 We are seeing evidence of the move towards electric commercial vehicle being played out in the number of new Battery Electric Van (BEV) registrations, which grew by 21% in 2023, and the introduction of new electric LCV and HGV models. However, only 5.2% of LCV registrations in the first quarter of 2023 were electric, with electric HGVs faring less well at less than 3%. Clearly there is some way to go to achieve the ambitious zero emission vehicle mandate of BEVs representing 10% of the market in 2024.  

The Biggest Barrier is Cost  

There is no hiding from the fact that a major barrier to achieving the transition to electric commercial vehicles and HGVs is cost. Commercial fleets are typically replaced every four to five years, which fleet managers budget for. However, electric commercial models are more expensive than their diesel counterparts. A battery electric truck costs on average two to three times more than its diesel equivalent.   

Plus there is the added cost of power – not just the cost of the electricity itself, but also the cost of getting the electricity from the grid and into the battery. Public charging is expensive at the scale required to power a van or HGV. Similarly, the cost of installing an on-site charging infrastructure comprising charge point hardware, management software, cables, bays, etc. can be daunting.   

Until there is parity in the cost of vehicles and a demonstrable return on the cost of installing an EV infrastructure, the Total Cost of Operation, or ‘TCO’, is a significant barrier.   

Another major challenge lies in the complexity and disruption involved in installing a charging infrastructure for a commercial fleet. Charging commercial vehicles – especially those with large payloads – is not simply a case of installing some chargers and plugging in a vehicle when it is back at the depot, or charging at a public charge point on route.  

A charging infrastructure sufficient for HGVs and LCVs can involve provisioning tens of megawatts of power. This requires permissions and engineering work to secure multi-megawatt grid connections from the grid, which can take months or even years. The processes that businesses and distribution network operators (DNOs) need to go through to upgrade supply and bring in new connections are complex and involve many variables. For most it’s a real step into the unknown.  

ev truck uk

Navigating the Complexities 

The challenge for the EV charging industry is how to make the total cost and convenience of transitioning to electric commercial fleets attractive for fleet managers.  

EV charging companies have been exploring these challenges. The industry has consulted extensively with commercial fleet owners and operators, and bodies like the Road Haulage Association to arrive at innovative solutions than help make the transition affordable, accessible and sustainable for commercial and heavy goods EVs. Solutions to the challenges are as varied and diverse as the challenges themselves, and each one depends on the unique circumstances of each business and site. They can include arrangements where a business explores a build, own, operate model for its on-site charging infrastructure to a ‘charging as a service’ scenario, or holistic outsourcing of the infrastructure and energy, where everything is optimised and controlled by an experienced EV mobility service provider.  

The starting point of any solution, especially the right solution, is a comprehensive analysis of what is available currently and what is required. That includes a full site-by-site investigation and analysis of where the business is looking to go in the future to allow for growth and accommodate advances in battery technology as they come on board.   

This is where strong partnerships with experts delivers the ultimate return. After all, running a business or a commercial fleet is hard enough without having to become an expert in electrical infrastructure. Transport might be a critical element of a business, but it is just a part of the broader picture. There are commercial and financial targets to meet, vehicles to maintain and legislation to comply with.  

Electrifying commercial vehicles and HGVs involves buying new vehicles and provisioning a completely different way to fuel them without disrupting existing operations. Mer has the solutions to ensure this works for you, and it all starts with a conversation.  

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