A builders’ merchant owned by a Merseyside housing group is helping to pioneer the North’s transition to low carbon transportation, but there’s a long road to travel yet
THE internal combustion engine is yesterday’s tech; polluting carbon emitters destined to go the way of the steam locomotive. Well, that’s the good intention, at least.
Shifting gear to electric vehicles is easier said than done. The cars or vans are one thing, getting them the juice needed to run is quite another.
Much like their fossil-powered counterparts, they are reliant on a support infrastructure – but one that remains very much in its infancy.
It’s a catch-22 familiar to any technophile: uptake of the kit isn’t likely to take off beyond die-hard enthusiasts without the relevant supply chain in place. But without a critical mass of customers, it’s far less likely for this supporting business ‘eco-system’ to emerge, unless some agency steps in to play ‘midwife’ and ease the means of transition.
The Government, as part of its zero carbon agenda to tackle climate change, wants to see the sale of new diesel and petrol engines phased out by 2040, but its proposed methods and intent were declared “vague and unambitious” by the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee of MPs last year.
Instead, it called for the deadline to be brought forward to 2032, and for the Government to take a more strategic and hands-on approach to ensuring the provision of a charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
“Our EV charging infrastructure is simply not fit for purpose,” said Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the BEIS committee. “We cannot expect consumers to overcome ‘range anxiety’ and switch to electric vehicles if they cannot be confident of finding convenient, reliable points to regularly charge their cars.
“The Government cannot simply will the ends and leave local government, or private companies, to deliver the means. The Government needs to get a grip and lead on coordinating the financial support and technical know-how necessary for local authorities to promote this infrastructure and help ensure that electric cars are an attractive option for consumers.”
Even so, local authorities, businesses, and other bodies both public and private, are pressing the pedal and revving up the electric motor, as they explore the transition for themselves, and in so doing contribute to the emergence of this technological gear shift.
Take Sovini Trade Supplies (STS), part of the Merseyside-based Sovini Group: the builders’ merchant has not only added electric vehicles to its fleet, it has also installed two charging points at its Aintree depot.
The company has teamed up with Wirral-based Symphony Electric Vehicles (SEV) for the venture, following a successful bid to Merseytravel’s latest capital grant scheme, which aims to boost the uptake of electric vehicles by increasing the availability and accessibility of the infrastructure in the workplace.
“Sovini Trade Supplies is committed to implementing pioneering new methods to ensure our corporate social responsibility is upheld,” said Alan Evans, regional operations manager. “This year  we decided to invest in electric vehicles, which has not only provided benefits to the environment but also offers financial savings too.
“Following a successful bid to Merseytravel we are delighted to have worked in partnership with Symphony Electric Vehicles to install a charging point at our Aintree store. We are working to introduce more electric vehicles to our growing fleet in 2019.”
The new addition to the STS fleet is an eNV200 Nissan van. The vehicle is being used to support the company’s day-to-day operations, transporting deliveries to the repairs and maintenance, and the construction industry.
John Robinson, director of SEV, added: “We are delighted to support Sovini Trade Supplies in their sustainable transport restructure, adding zero carbon emission vehicles to their growing fleet and installing charging points at their depot. More and more fleets are converting to 100% electric vehicles. This will help our overall ambition in making Liverpool one of the lowest carbon cities in Europe.”
It’s not just the environment that is expected to benefit, but the bottom line too. STS claims there are significant savings to be made from electric vehicles. The 100% electric vehicles are exempt from road tax and it is claimed they cost just £2 per 100 miles to run. SEV has installed over 60 electric vehicle charging points across the Liverpool City Region, in a variety of sites both public and private, and it aims to add more in the future.
The environmental aspect of electric vehicles isn’t just a matter of contributing to a reduction in carbon emissions to address global warming; improving the quality of the air we breathe is another important factor.
Traffic pollution is a growing health issue for communities the length and breadth of Britain, that’s why the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) is embarking on a programme to throughout the city region.
“Improving air quality across West Yorkshire and Leeds City Region, while at the same time developing the transport networks vital to supporting inclusive growth, is one of the combined authority’s key aims and this work will help us achieve that,” said Councillor Kim Groves, chair of the WYCA’s transport committee.
Half the bays will be for the use of taxis and private hire vehicles. Groves added that this would encourage the shift to electric vehicles, potentially seeing around 500 diesel vehicles converted to hybrid or pure electric versions by 2020. This would reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions from taxis by as much as 18%.
Installation is funded by a grant of almost £2 million from the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV). Match funding of £1.2 million has been raised from the combined authority’s partner authorities, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, and Wakefield councils. They’ll be installed, owned and operated by ENGIE for at least 10 years.
“Most Leeds residents agree that tackling air pollution to protect the health of everyone in the city should be a priority,” said Councillor James Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for sustainability and the environment.
“As vehicles are the biggest contributor to outdoor air pollution in the city, everyone that switches to a zero emission vehicle will be making a big difference to the air we breathe. In our recent consultation, many residents and businesses in Leeds told us that they’d be more likely to switch to a cleaner electric vehicle if there were more places to charge.”
Wilfred Petrie, chief executive of ENGIE UK & Ireland, added: “The delivery of the rapid electric vehicle charging network gives people a real incentive to consider switching to low emission vehicles… We have seen real success and tangible improvements in carbon reduction in cities where we have managed green mobility solutions and we are looking forward to seeing this being replicated across West Yorkshire.”
The UK’s electric vehicle market is approaching a crossroads and needs a boost to its infrastructure if the benefits of the technology are to be fully realised, according to an October 2018 report by PwC, so this kind of installation programme is essential.
“We have one of the largest electric vehicle stocks of any EU country with a large conventional car fleet,” said Steve Jennings, PwC’s UK lead for energy and utilities. “We also rank alongside Germany when it comes to the number of publicly accessible fast chargers – an indicator of the UK’s efforts to provide the best service to consumers.
“Therefore, it is essential we retain the momentum of success. We need to nurture the commercial environment that allows multiple business models to flourish and provide a diversity of charging options for customers.”
There was an “upsurge” of 54% in the UK’s electric vehicle stock in 2017, reaching almost 134,000 vehicles, the report said; infrastructure, however, is struggling to keep up. In 2017, the number of charging points had risen to more than 13,500 publicly accessible sites.
London has the largest share of charging points with 22%, Scotland has 15%, and the South East has 14%. Between them, these regions account for more than half of all the UK electric vehicle charging points.
So, our regions have some catching up to do. Don’t hit the brakes, just yet.
This article first appeared in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine, #3 Spring 2019