The EV road to recovery
Lauren Pamma, Electrification Proposition Lead at Lex Autolease , unpicks how utility businesses can benefit from adopting electric vehicles.
It is no surprise that business priorities have shifted since the Covid-19 crisis, as many look to preserve existing resources and start the rebuilding process. However, against the backdrop of the government’s ‘Build Back Better’ messaging, there is an opportunity to ensure sustainability remains a central part of any future plans.
According to research from the International Energy Agency, since travel restrictions were imposed at the start of the pandemic, up to 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been prevented globally. The recent UK lockdown resulted in an unforeseen boost to the progress towards net-zero and businesses across the utility industry can look to use this shift as a catalyst for long-term change by accelerating their transition to electric vehicles.
Positive steps have already been taken by key players across the energy sector. Giants including Eon and British Gas have pledged to electrify their fleets and install the necessary charging infrastructure within the next ten years, as part of The Climate Group’s EV100 commitment, which we’re also signatories of.
As we begin to take the first steps towards a green recovery from the crisis, what should utility businesses consider when exploring their Electric Vehicle (EV) options and what is really driving fleet electrification?
Right vehicle, right job
For any business looking to introduce alternatively-fuelled vehicles within its operation, it’s important to identify areas where the transition to electric can be made most easily. Put simply, it’s a case of matching each job role to the most appropriate vehicle technology.
For example, businesses doing relatively low-mileage and stop-start driving within a concentrated urban area will find petrol and diesel vehicles are rarely the most efficient fuel types for the job. In this case, electric vehicles present an opportunity for businesses to reap possible savings on fuel, maintenance, taxation and charges for entering Ultra Low Emission Zones.
However, jobs which require vehicles to be in operation for longer and to cover more miles – for example to deliver parts and services to a wider network of customers – may still be better suited to the very latest clean diesel technology.
It’s important to highlight that the transition to electric vehicles doesn’t have to be all or nothing. For many businesses, introducing a select number of EVs into their organisation to trial the technology and build up employee advocacy is a preferable – and more realistic - starting point.
Whole life cost
Although electric vehicle technology is evolving rapidly, up-front purchase costs for many electric cars and vans currently remain more expensive than their petrol and diesel counterparts. While the ongoing low running costs are highly attractive to businesses, the initial upfront investment can be a barrier to wide-spread adoption.
Firms must look at the bigger picture and consider the full lifespan of the vehicle and the subsequent cost savings that can be made. Together with unrestricted access to Clean Air Zones in cities across the UK, businesses can reap savings on taxation and fuel costs. While the cost-per-mile in a traditionally-fuelled vehicle is around 14 pence, charging some electric models such as the Peugeot e-208 can be as cheap as four pence per mile.
Establishing the right charging infrastructure is the key to the long-term viability and adoption of electric vehicles across a business’s fleet, which brings its own set of considerations. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of who is supplying the chargers, who will be using them, where they need to be, and the type of chargers required. For businesses looking to further boost their green credentials, charging EVs using renewable energy sources can go a long way to make their driving even greener and unlock additional long-term savings.
EVs on the charge
The declining uptake of diesel and petrol vehicles on UK roads is nothing new, and EV adoption has picked up considerably in recent months. Recent registration figures from the Society of Motor and Manufacturers Traders (SMMT) show that the number of EVs on the roads have more than doubled amid the global pandemic.
This continues the trend of the past 12 months which have arguably seen the fastest pace of change yet, thanks in no small part to the continued support from government’s Road to Zero Strategy. The strategy outlines a series of ambitious targets and funding packages to facilitate a future where all new cars and vans are effectively zero-emission by 2035 - potentially just three replacement cycles away for many fleet operators.
As government incentives gather pace, it’s only a matter of time before electric vehicles become embedded into the UK’s road network.
Utility businesses now face a significant opportunity to embrace the benefits of alternatively-fuelled vehicles. By starting the EV transition today, businesses can not only play their part in contributing to the UK’s sustainability targets but also reap the long-term cost-saving advantages of introducing EVs into their fleet.
This article was contributed by Lauren Pamma, Electrification Proposition Lead at Lex Autolease
Accelerating solar transition with robotics and automation
Professor Tadhg O’Donovan, Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, shares his views on how robotics and automation can deliver a real impact in leading the Middle East’s transition to solar energy and in advancing the overall sustainability agenda
As the world grapples with diminishing supplies of oil and the need to reduce carbon emissions, the adoption of disruptive technologies such as robotics and automation can be an important catalyst for the proliferation of renewable energy. Current applications and research show that robotics and automation help simplify the processes involved in support of renewable energy generation, especially for solar energy sources, which results in increased productivity, and cost savings.
Solar panel placement
Robots and automation can help unload and place solar panels onto racks at huge utility-scale sites. Thanks to outdoor, autonomous robotic technology, the process for solar field assembly can be made more efficient. Moreover, due to the fragile nature of solar cells and wafers, high-speed impact robots are more suitable and gentler than manual handling which helps ensure higher throughputs with better yield. Robots support solar construction crews, not replace them which means utility-scale contractors are able to reduce large amounts of repetitive tasks and improve productivity, bolster worker safety, and produce more MegaWatt-hours, faster.
Solar panel cleaning and maintenance
Crucial tasks such as removing dust from solar cells can be automated with the help of self-cleaning robots which is otherwise risky for people. Dust removal is critical in high dust-density regions such as the Middle East to maximise the irradiance incident on the panel and to ensure the solar panels provide maximum power output and energy yield. Water-free autonomous cleaning system can save billions of litres of water over the lifetime of a plant situated in arid regions.
Manufacturing of solar power systems
Robots in the PV manufacturing process make a significant contribution due to their ability to reduce costs considerably and enhancing precision and accuracy when compared with human intervention. Manufacturers can deploy robots and automation to make smarter and swifter production decisions, which ultimately increase precision, reduces the cost of production, and improves productivity. Silicon ingot, silicon modules, solar cells, and silicon wafers are some examples of delicate components that can be produced with high precision through robotic automation.
Integrating robotics into the renewable energy industry comes with a few of challenges too. One of the largest challenges being the power grid itself which is primarily designed to transport energy from large, centralized power plants fuelled by non-renewable sources such as natural gas and oil. Hence, the current power grid requires an overhaul before solar and other forms of distributed renewable energy can be truly integrated as a viable source of power.
Fresh power grid designs
Propelling the energy industry into the future requires fresh approaches to the power grid design. The answer lies with smart power grids that can integrate various renewable energy sources and help utility companies achieve greater efficiency and sustainability.
An increase in the integration of robotics and automation in the renewable energy industry could lead to an eventual total shift from other sources of energies such as oil to greener alternatives such as solar. Finally, this will spur the creation of “jobs of the future” – especially in high-growth data, digital and robotics engineering.