Ask an Expert: The Reality of Electrifying your Fleet

We can all can agree that greener transportation is a key factor in working towards a planet that is safer and healthier for us all to inhabit in the future. For the average person, ‘doing your bit’ may involve swapping your traditional vehicle for an electric model, or cycling to work. For a fleet manager in charge of upwards of 500 vehicles, this switch proves a little more complicated.

We spoke with Chris Demetriou, Head of Corporate Fleet, Transport and Accessible Community Transport for the London Borough of Islington. In this article, we’ll share what we found, including Chris’ insight into the mounting pressure on fleet managers to electrify their fleets in accordance with UK regulations. He also discusses the merits and shortfalls of various zero-emission vehicle alternatives.

Picture of Chris Demetriou

Chris is responsible for over 500 vehicles and 150+ staff as the local authority’s licence holder. With more than 20 years of overall public sector experience, he has extensive knowledge of all things fleet management and vehicle tracking, with a specialist interest in fleet electrification.

Currently, he is leading the transition of the Islington council fleet from fossil-fuelled to electric and alternative fuel vehicles in line with its 2030 net zero pledge. He is committed to deploying new and innovative technologies wherever possible, including overseeing an award-winning electrification programme where the borough upcycled the internal combustion engines (ICEs) of its refuse collection fleet.

A well-known and respected figure in the fleet and transportation industry, Chris regularly shares his best practice and knowledge at trade shows, most recently speaking at ‘Fleet International – The Show’ as well as ‘Fleet & Mobility Live’ – the UK’s largest fleet and mobility conference.

How intense is the pressure on fleet managers to switch to fossil fuel alternatives?

Fleet managers and operators within the private and public sectors are under huge pressure to transition their fleets to greener business models, both for economic and environmental reasons. The UK government’s 2030 ‘end of sale’ deadline for new petrol and diesel vehicles has added to that pressure with fleet operators needing to source the appropriate fossil-free zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) for their needs.

Other factors including the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and many other Clean Air zones across the UK mean fleet operators are frantically looking for alternative fuel vehicles including vehicles which are compliant within these zones.

What do fleet managers need to consider when switching to greener transport options?

There are lots of considerations for fleet operators to consider when choosing the right ZEVs (zero emission vehicles) for their fleet.

  • Capital costs, which include the purchase of the vehicles as well as the appropriate charging infrastructure.
  • Energy costs, which are the ongoing costs of charging the vehicles.

When fuel costs were at their highest, switching to electric vehicles was a big money-saver. However since energy costs are currently rising, the margin of expected savings is narrowing for those choosing electric vehicles.

The environmental benefits of purchasing electric vehicles outweigh traditional ICE (internal combustion engines) throughout the lifespan of the vehicle. Furthermore, environmentally conscious organisations can report an immediate reduction of their CO2 emissions with the purchase of electric vehicles or other alternative fuel vehicles including hybrids or PHEVs.

There are so many more electric vehicle options now than ever have been, particularly for cars and vans. Availability is also improving with lead times for electric vehicle chassis being better than for petrol or diesel equivalents and on average, lead times are around 24 weeks compared with a peak of 35 weeks in October 2022.

In your opinion, which of the alternatives do you think is the most and least suitable replacement for fossil fuel cars?

In terms of alternative fuel vehicles, there are more options than ever for fleet operators to replace their fossil fuel vehicles with alternatives such as electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Ultimately, reducing their company’s total emissions.

In March 2023, 16.2% of all new car registrations were electric vehicles, with a record 46,626 new electric cars registered. This takes the UK’s total number of fully electric vehicles to over 735,000 as of March.

The sale of PHEVs remains high, with around 480,000 registered in the UK in March 2023 although this figure is declining as more and more are choosing full-battery electric as their number one alternative.

The lack of available hydrogen vehicle options means that this is not currently a viable option for fleet operators and there are very few hydrogen refuelling stations across the UK.

Alternative biofuel options such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) can help reduce harmful environmental emissions by up to 90% for fleet operators. However, there is a premium to pay (approx. 50 pence per litre compared to diesel) for this fuel option and its only viable for those who already have diesel vehicles rather than unleaded fuel. Even if it is a viable option, operators would need their own fuel stations on site as there are no public petrol stations where you can fill up your vehicle with HVO.

You have mainly replaced your fleet with BEVs. Was that a purely environmental decision? Is there another form of vehicle that is more environmentally friendly but less accessible?

We have chosen the BEV route as this is the best current option for us in terms of environmental benefits. In addition to the BEVs producing zero tail-pipe emissions, the council’s green electricity tariffs mean that all energy supplied to our BEVs comes from renewable sources.

We are also aware that in the near future, we will be able to create our own ‘sun to wheel’ solution where PV solar panels and battery storage will be used and stored to power or electric vehicles meaning less reliance on the grid for energy.

Despite many discussions surrounding hydrogen vehicles or less polluting fuels including biofuels/HVO or E-fuels, I am confident battery electric vehicles will remain the go-to vehicle option for operators wanting to replace their current ICE vehicles with suitable and available alternatives.

We are still many years away from hydrogen being a viable alternative both in terms of vehicle options and infrastructure. There remains doubt on the sustainability of hydrogen with only green hydrogen considered environmentally friendly as opposed to blue, grey or pink hydrogen which is produced using fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Battery technology is continually evolving. We are already seeing changes to the traditional lithium-ion battery which has mostly been used in electric vehicles. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries are now emerging, which contain no cobalt or nickel (considered rare minerals) and other battery options including sodium-iron which is cheaper to produce. Solid-state batteries could also soon be used in EVs. Simply put, these newer batteries are considered cheaper to produce with fewer earth minerals required which could address some of the concerns about the sustainability of BEVs.

What is the main roadblock in terms of EVs being fully adopted in place of ICEs?

We do have issues in the UK in terms of infrastructure. These are some factors that could help streamline the adoption of EVs in place of ICEs

  • More EV charging points;
  • A more consistent approach in terms of ‘tap and go’ charging rather than having to download apps;
  • Consistent pricing in regard to EV public charging as prices can differ based on speed and charging provider;
  • Abolishing tax (20%) if you charge on-street as opposed to those who charge at home (5%), which I consider to be unfair.

In the UK, most vehicles are not driven more than 15 miles per day. Fleet operators with large grey fleets or hauliers regularly surpass this mileage and therefore need more and better infrastructure.

What developments do you anticipate in the near future?

V2G (vehicle to grid) will be the EV game-changer, in my opinion.

However, I and other fleet operators who have complete confidence in battery technology and EVs need to put more pressure on the government, national grid as well as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to ensure that they include vehicle-to-grid-enabled technology within their vehicles.

We also need the Combined Charging System (CCS) to enter the bi-directional charging market (they are scheduled to do so in 2025). Currently, you can only bi-directionally charge three vehicles (Nissan Leaf, Nissan ENV200 and Mitsubishi PHEV) on the CHAdeMO DC charging system which is predominately an Asian charging system which is being phased out in both Europe and Asia.

So, in short, to make progress we need:

  • CCS to enter the bi-directional market;
  • More vehicle manufacturers to have V2G tech in the vehicles;
  • The National Grid to accept energy stored in vehicles back into the grid;
  • The government to change regulations to allow the National Grid to do so.
Written by:
Alice is one of Expert Market's resident software experts, helping businesses improve their efficiency or reach, with an emphasis on productivity software, CRM and telecommunications.