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12 May 2021

Are we there yet? Electric vehicles for pest management

BUSINESS | PPC103 MAY 2021

From tax hikes to electric charging points, going electric is a complicated subject. It’s only a matter of time before most commercial vehicles on UK roads are electric vehicles (EVs).

The question isn’t if you’ll go electric – it’s when.

Marketing Manager and PPC editor Scott Johnstone investigates whether the time is right for your fleet to go electric.

are-we-there-yet-main-image

Sceptical about EVs? Me too. I’m rarely an early adopter. When I invest in new technology, I want all the kinks to have been ironed out.

‘Going electric’ as an individual fills me with apprehension. What if I run out of charge? Where do I fix an EV if it goes wrong? Will the technology be obsolete in a few years?

For diesel-powered businesses like pest companies, making a change this significant is a balance between cost-savings, investment, ethics and logistics.

The shift away from dead-dinosaur-based fuel sources is inevitable, and socio-political pressures are accelerating the change. But the specific tipping point for individuals and businesses to make the leap depends on several more practical factors.

Government pressure

We’d all like to be a bit greener - but in reality, EVs have to be a practical alternative to diesel or petrol.

Air quality in cities is a significant concern for the general public, which is reflected in government policy.

Diesel cars currently face higher VED tax banding and Company Car Tax. Vans may be exempt for now, but for how long?

The UK has committed to stop the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.

Millions of diesel vehicle drivers face a £12.50 daily fee to drive in the centre of London after launching its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

The zone affected is set to increase in size from 25 October 2021 drastically. Vehicles pay based on their emissions rating (petrol is Euro 4, diesel is Euro 6), meaning all diesel vehicles made after September 2016 shouldn’t be affected (yet).

Around 30 other areas plan to implement clean air zones, with many likely to come into effect this year.

Many areas are also considering higher parking charges for diesel vehicles to reduce polluting vehicles in highly populated areas.

The scales are indeed set to slide towards the favour of EVs, however that doesn’t necessarily mean 2021 is the year to shift gears.

Battery range

The most significant deciding factor on whether an electric van is right for your business will be battery range. If an electric van can’t cover the miles you do in a day on a single charge, then it’s unlikely to be the solution for you.

While the average range of a new electric van is between 80-120 miles, there are plenty of factors that can affect what distance you’ll get between charges:

  • If it’s cold, then your 100 mile average could dip to 50 miles
  • The way you drive an EV affects the miles-per-charge too – reports suggest most drivers actually get about 70 miles per charge
  • Like a heated seat in winter? That could knock some more miles off
  • Your payload could dramatically reduce the actual mileage range – although this is unlikely to be affected by an average pest tech’s load.

If an electric van can’t cover the miles you do in a day on a single charge, then it’s unlikely to be the solution for you.

If you do more than 100 miles a day, an electric van probably isn’t right for you unless you’re willing to significantly change the way you work (ie better route planning) and are ready to factor in a lunchtime quick-charge (many electric vans have 30 minute ‘superchargers’ available at select locations).

Charging points and local infrastructure

According to ZapMap, there are now 39,914 publicly available charging points across 14,776 locations in the UK, with 779 new connectors popping up in the last 30 days (8 April 2021).

You can use free services like Zap Map to check that your working area has good coverage.

Charging points aren’t the only infrastructure to consider. Where’s your nearest repair centre that handles EVs? Spend some time talking to them about maintenance costs before you consider replacing any vehicles.

Electric motors are inherently more reliable than a traditional combustion engine due to the fewer moving parts and ‘cleaner’ internal systems.

Plus, you’ve got no clutch to wear out or exhaust system to rot over time. You might be pleasantly surprised by the maintenance costs of your EV over the long run.

What’s the cost?

Working out the cost of operation for EVs is a tricky calculation. The price per mile travelled is a big part, and the regularly quoted average figures are:

  • 100 miles worth of charge: £2-4
  • 100 miles worth of diesel or petrol: £12-15.

Electric vans can be significantly more expensive than petrol or diesel equivalents.

Still, once you factor in some of the government schemes (potentially up to £8,000 back), plus some of the everyday savings, the total cost of ownership is likely to be much less.

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How much greener is an electric vehicle?

This is a more difficult question than it first seems. Once an EV is on the road, it has the lowest emissions leading to the cleanest air.

Figures from 2014 EU Study well-to-wheels analysis of future automotive fuels and powertrains in the European context.

 
CO2 emissions gkm-1
Type Propulsion Fuel and delivery Electricity generation
Petrol 105 20 -
Hybrid 47 10 15
Hydrogen - 62 -
Electric - - 57

However, it gets a bit more complicated when we take into account the creation of a new EV.

In Belgium, the University of Liège concluded that an electric car using a 60kWh battery made in Europe would have to travel some 700,000km before it is “greener than an average petrol car”.

But they also said that a fully renewable European grid would reduce the EV’s CO2 lag to just 30,000km.

Other studies suggest a much lower figure, with the Delft University of Technology calculating the required mileage to be a more reasonable 80,000km of driving.

While EVs seem to significantly reduce pollution locally, larger-scale changes in the manufacturing process and electricity generation are needed to maximise the green credentials of EVs.

Should you change your fleet to electric?

As you might expect, there’s no definitive yes or no here. It’s a deeply complicated decision, and the viability will depend on your business.

Here’s my thought process:

  • Where are my clients? If they’re all in the same urban area with plenty of backup charge points around, then an EV could save money in the long run.
  • Do I have to replace my fleet now? Charging technology is continually improving, and the cost of batteries is coming down. What else will I get for my money if I wait a year or two?
  • Is buying a diesel or petrol van now a bad investment? Potentially. The world is only going in one direction.
  • Is my local infrastructure ready for me to go electric? Have a chat with your local authority, check charging points and service centres.
  • What’s my average daily mileage now? Would I have to allow time for a midday charge? Spending some time analysing fleet management processes will soon reveal whether electric vans are viable yet.
  • Should I try an electric car before I replace my van? Swapping a non-work-vehicle for an EV will help to reduce emissions, and I’ll have a better understanding of how EVs might fit into my business.
  • If I have numerous vehicles in my fleet, could I try replacing a few with electric vans? I don’t have to go all-in on electric, and with some modest changes to how I plan routes, there’s a potential to make some meaningful changes.
  • What grants could I get for going electric? Being an early adopter has its benefits. There’s plenty of government schemes that might help me make the switch.

Case studies

Electric pest control fleet

Liverpool City Council partnered with Renault UK to replace its entire fleet of pest control vans with new electric vehicles. This project was part of the Council’s larger initiative to improve local air quality.

The Kangoo electric vans were custom-built, so council workers can easily transfer necessary gears and even access a concealed hygiene station between jobs. The vans produce zero tailpipe emissions and, in summer, can travel up to 125 miles before a recharge.

Eco-warrior

“I’ve always been an eco-warrior and have been researching EVs for some time. My concern was the distance I travel, and the worry of running out of charge.

"This year, when my old car decided to give up the ghost, I decided to take the leap of faith after finding a EV with 300 mile range. I could not be more happy. It’s a great feeling driving your car knowing that you are not polluting the planet.”

Dee Ward-Thompson, BPCA Head of Technical and Membership

Coffee and cake

“Whenever we purchase a car, my husband always shops around and compares vehicles so it was no surprise when he started to review electric cars.

"As Dee said, the concern was the mileage you can do before running out of charge. We soon realised that it’s all in the planning of your journey but no pollution, free car tax and ‘having’ to stop for coffee and cake, means owning an EV is a win-win in our household!”

Rachel Eyre, BPCA Member Support Officer

Electric dream or highway to hell?

Will you be adding any electric vehicles to your fleet anytime soon? Have you already ditched the diesel? Are you a die-hard petrol head? Let us know your thoughts, and we might print them here.

hello@bpca.org.uk

Source: PPC103