Simon McWhirter's blog: An attr-active opportunity for EV adoption
10 January 2020
Last week, I read a fascinating article by social entrepreneur and futurist Wayne Visser in which he outlines the inevitability of electric vehicle (EV) adoption for fleet managers and company car drivers.
Within the piece he focused on the significant cost climate change is incurring on the global economy, as well as the sizeable challenges facing fleet managers to meet proposed emissions targets. To put this in context we need to limit warming to 1.5°C by 2050. We've already exceeded one degree and it's only 2020! I think Visser's comments make it clear that we urgently need to change the way we generate and use energy.
Before we start catastrophising, there is some good news as a sea change is starting to occur, albeit at a slower pace than many of us would like. The gradual greening of the National Grid continues, with renewable forms of energy becoming a more affordable and efficient proposition for UK business and industry. However, there's still a long way to go. Currently only around 28% of energy generated comes from the renewable sources and we need to place our foot firmly on the accelerator to achieve net-zero in three decades' time.
From my perspective, there are two connected areas which we must address immediately in order to speed up decarbonisation: transport and construction. Both sectors should be encouraged to adopt more sustainable, energy efficient practices which will act as a catalyst to make our ambitious 2050 targets more achievable. One of these is the mass national uptake of EVs in commercial organisations.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)'s 2018 provisional figures for UK greenhouse gas emissions highlighted that transport currently accounts for over 30% of the UK's total CO2 emissions. A significant proportion of these come from ICE (internal combustion engine) road vehicles. Policy makers and UK business have made tentative moves to address this concern, however many feel that intention has not converted into action as fast as required.
Highlighting UK research recently carried out by Business Car and E.ON into fleet vehicles across 21 industries, Visser finds the majority (73%) are solely dependent on fossil fuels, while barely quarter have hybrid capabilities (24%) and a miniscule 4% are fully electric. These results should serve as a stark wake-up call for any businesses with a fleet.
It should also be seen as an opportunity for fleet managers, who can become trailblazers in our vital move towards a carbon neutral society. In my view this can be achieved by combining an 'active' approach to the built environment which will, in turn, incentivise the wide-scale embrace of EVs.
Fundamentally it requires a creative and holistic approach, looking beyond the company's fleet to their built assets, incorporating technology and facilities into a building (whether its head office or a distribution facility) which are specifically tailored for EV drivers.
'Active Buildings' offer one potential solution to realise a nation of EV users and simultaneously alleviate pressure on the grid from mass adoption.
Active Building systems are those which enable a building to support the wider energy system by intelligently integrating renewable energy technologies for heat, power and transport. Significantly, they reduce demand on the National Grid, a crucial balancing factor towards mass adoption of EVs.
To be clear, it's not as simple as tacking a solar panel to the office roof and an extra power outlet in the supermarket carpark. What we're referring to is an intuitive system by which energy is directly generated through photovoltaic panels (or other renewable energy systems) on a building's roof and walls, can be stored in the structure of the building itself and then released on demand through a smart management system.
The idea is that, as well as heating and powering the building, it could power vehicles too, supporting mobility needs, from a single car to a fleet of SUVs.
To demonstrate the potential of Active Buildings for EV use, our founder Prof. Dave Worsley has been able to cover over 20,000 miles of road in the last 12 months, solely using electricity generated from an Active Building at our test site in Swansea University. It's quite an achievement, highlighting a huge saving for UK businesses. It's also a simple way in which companies can significantly contribute to net-zero carbon targets and improved public health.
As a priority, I think we need to develop and increase an understanding amongst fleet managers and business owners about how our structures can work harder towards a net zero carbon future. Building with electric vehicles in mind is just one way of doing it.
Simon McWhirter is head of engagement at Active Building Centre