Fleet profile: Swansea University
24 January 2019
Author: Rachel Boagey
Rachel Boagey speaks to Swansea University's EV integration manager about its growing appetite for zero-emission vehicles.
It was back in late 2011 when Swansea University decided to try out its very first electric vehicle (EV). Following positive feedback from staff, the university decided to install a charge point in November 2012 and it wasn't long before the first EV officially made its way on to the fleet in January 2013. The university's EV integration manager Nigel Morris tells us that it has continued to grow ever since.
Fast forward to 2019 and the university has a total of 23 alternatively fuelled vehicles on its fleet, including ten cars, ten vans, one MPV and one hydrogen car - not bad seeing as the whole fleet only consists of 35 vehicles in total. Since EVs began being integrated into the uni's fleet mix, Morris's job has continued to grow and expand from what was a sideline job to his full-time role.
The responsibility of getting more EVs on to the fleet of a publically owned institution isn't an easy one, but the proof is in the pudding as every year, with the vehicles covering over 100,000 miles, the uni saves 25 tonnes of CO2 emissions and almost £12,500 in fuel, and this includes the cost of electricity.
"We are constricted by our procurement procedures and policies, and it really slows us down, but that comes with the territory I'm afraid," explains Morris. "What I am hearing is people saying 'we don't have petrol or diesel pumps on campus, so why do we need electric?' and that is a mindset I am constantly striving to change. I have to go through all of the public sector procurement hoops, but to be fair, I'm getting ample support from the uni for that, and I'm pleased by the growth of our EV fleet over the last few years."
Six of the university's original Nissan Leafs have just been replaced with the new 40kW Leafs. The university's fleet also consists of four new 40kW vans, meaning that now all of the first round of EVs have been replaced and refreshed with new models.
"We are seeing the benefits of a slightly longer operational range and higher usage now with the new vehicles we have adopted on to the fleet," says Morris.
Interestingly, the university originally opted for three-year leases with the first round of cars, but is considering a rethink to longer leases. The reason?
"We saw that the technology was moving really fast when we brought the first few EVs on to our fleet, and while that is still the case, these new vehicles we have adopted now meet our needs for their use cases, so we are considering a five-year lease with one of them to see how we go," explains Morris.
"As you can tell, we are now far more confident to keep them for longer as we're really happy with them."
The fleet is now awaiting the arrival of its first Hyundai Kona with a 63kW battery, and a range between 250 and 300 miles.
"That is going to be a really useful vehicle for us as it will get us to places like Bristol and back on one charge," notes Morris. "We've only ordered one to start with, but that could be used a benchmark for our fleet potentially."
Something Morris isn't so thrilled with is the often long lead times on the cars they have been looking to procure.
"Our account manager is struggling to get the Kia Niro with the larger battery on to the fleet as demand has outstripped supply," he explains. "This isn't the first time we have had this experience with an EV and it is an issue for someone who is trying really hard to bring more of these vehicles in."
Within the university there is a mix of how the vehicles are used, and various roles have dedicated EVs, such as the catering and mail room departments, which use electric vans to deliver their goods to the different campuses dotted all over the city.
"We then have certain vehicles dedicated to business units such as the library, IT and physics department, which have cars for anyone in that department to use, including students, if they pass our tests," says Morris. "They are to be used on a pool car basis and that has proved very popular here."
The university strives to be as energy efficient and carbon friendly as possible, and is currently leading a UK-wide project.
"We have an active buildings centre project where we make buildings energy efficient and grid neutral over the course of a year," explains Morris. "We are even looking at how to be grid positive so we put more back in than we take out."
To do this, the university has installed batteries, solar panels and chargers on a few of its buildings, and tries to recharge its own dedicated fleet of six electric cars using locally generated solar power. Morris can safely says that any power not generated from the project is renewable too.
"All the grid electricity we buy is renewably sourced, so the contract with our energy provider ensures it is all 100% renewable," he says. "This is because of the decision within the university's sustainability and energy management team to do so."
Although not connected to cars as such, Morris notes that the university has lots of ground and its groundsmen have recently made the switch to electric for their tools.
"They are going electric with their lawnmowers, chainsaws and the like," he says. "They wanted to decarbonise and found the electric tools to be perfectly fit for purpose."
Unfortunately, but predictably, Morris explains that the uni's biggest challenge from the beginning has been infrastructure.
"We are starting the year now with a plan ahead and trying to retrofit into existing buildings, as I mentioned, but there is no doubt that it's a chicken and egg situation outside the uni grounds, and in the rest of the country in fact," he says.
"If the cars are on the roads then the charge points will have to react to the demand, but people aren't going to buy these cars until the infrastructure is sufficient," he says. "That is why I think the public sector and universities like us have a big role to play in getting more EVs on the roads and stimulating the uptake of them by others, and in turn when we do this we are making Wales a more attractive place for charge point companies to invest in."
Morris has one hydrogen car on the fleet and says he would like to expand this.
"Because we're a university studying and researching hydrogen and how it can be created in a more efficient way, I decided getting a car onto the fleet would be a great idea," he explains. "That way, when we are turning up to these science fairs to promote hydrogen we are not turning up in a diesel estate as we were before," he says.
But again, the problem is infrastructure.
"There's only one filling station in the whole of the South of Wales and luckily, that is right on our doorstep here at the uni," Morris says. "What I'd like to see is an expansion down the M4 from the cluster around Swindon and London, and more filling stations coming this way. We are going to keep doing research into hydrogen and try to create an environment for it, and we are working with the city council and government to ensure it is being shouted about and considered."
While the university hasn't taken the leap with telematics for yet, it is definitely
"You get a little telematics with Nissan's Connected Services, but it doesn't really work for more than one car," he says. "We have looked at a number of different solutions and are considering telematics to get us better use of the cars we already have. What we do know is that some EVs are sitting in car parks while someone is in a meeting and they could be used by someone else, and that is something telematics would be able to tell us and help us figure out.
"The thing with EVs is the more miles you do, the more you save, so I want to get more use out of them."
Something he is considering is making the EVs accessible to other uni departments.
"It would be good to open it up and share them, and make running costs cheaper for each department using the car," he says.
Ultimately, Morris has a goal of reaching zero emissions in the Swansea University fleet.m"That is my aim, but at the moment it is not possible because of the other vehicles we have, such as tippers, and I can't yet get electric Luton vans, but that is the real ambition," he reveals.
Morris also wants to see all of his vehicles fitted with autonomous emergency braking and reversing cameras as standard to avoid any unnecessary costs.
"It is about the safety of our fleet and also the money we could be saving when it comes to silly little shunts on the duel carriageway, which cause chaos and a lot of inconvenience," he says. "Technology that could stop this happening is worth spending money on in my opinion."
Morris feels there is still lots of negativity among traditional fleet operators when it comes to electric.
"This may be based on their current status quo of diesel and petrol, and a lack of understanding about electric, or maybe it just doesn't work for them, but we are making it work here, and we will continue to strive to do so," he says.
"Their argument is they can't afford to do it. Well, mine is, with 92mn barrels of oil coming out of the ground and 80% being burnt on fuel every day, you can't afford not to."