Jonathan Woodthorpe, head of e-mobility at npower, says companies looking to drive a sustainable future need to assess how electric vehicles can help them meet their green obligations, cut costs and underpin employee aspirations

It would be fair to say that businesses have faced, and are still facing, challenging times, with strict government obligations to reduce carbon emissions by 2050 coming at a time of unprecedented economic difficulty. However, businesses have, and will continue to play, a central role in how such challenges are met.

With many organisations now beginning to see the true value of implementing sustainability policies, how they go about their everyday activities is increasingly being brought into focus.

Strategic sustainability

A strategic approach to sustainability encompasses many areas of company activity. From production to transportation, business leaders with a clear commitment to a more sustainable future will see the benefits in terms of a positive impact on the bottom line, and reduced carbon emissions.

One particular area – transport – offers businesses the potential to make a real difference, but meeting the UK’s longer term climate goals requiring road transport to be largely decarbonised by 2050, brings with it real challenges. With 30 million vehicles on the UK’s roads, the issue is how to encourage a willingness to adopt alternative, greener and more sustainable transport methods. Ever rising petrol and diesel prices continue to fuel the general debate about how future transport needs can be tackled, and this will increasingly begin to influence the kind of strategic transport linked decisions made by companies.

Considering electric vehicles

One option for companies that are serious about a sustainable future is to examine the feasibility and potential brought by the advent of alternative transport solutions. Central to this has been the fast paced growth in the development and availability of electric vehicles.

A combination of government backed infrastructure investment, sophisticated electric vehicle development by the world’s leading car manufacturers, and innovative power supply solutions by energy companies, is helping ensure that electric vehicles can be a key way businesses can help reduce carbon emissions, cut costs and meet environmental obligations.

That said, the issues surrounding the creation of any new solution brings with them many questions and concerns, particularly around practical implementation. For businesses, these could include the cost and practicality of implementing large scale electric fleets, as well as how to meet the needs of employees, who are attracted by the benefits of electric vehicles, but require the charging and payment infrastructure to make it a viable option for everyday work requirements.

These are valid concerns, however, it is important that businesses realise work is already well underway to address these issues.

From a cost standpoint, the performance of electric vehicles is impressive. On a recent trial at npower, a Mercedes Vito E-Cell van was driven 352 miles costing just £11.75 in electricity – compared to £64.59 in a diesel powered equivalent.

There are many initiatives across the UK such as the government’s ‘Plugged in Places’ scheme, which has been implemented to stimulate the electric vehicle market in regional locations, deliver charging point infrastructure and incentives to help remove some of the barriers. In addition, npower is rolling-out a series of ‘Juice Points’ across the UK, ensuring the ability to recharge is readily accessible for both fleet drivers as well as workers travelling to their place of employment.

Running an electric fleet

Developments in technology used in electric vehicle infrastructure also enable businesses to lead the way in running a low carbon fleet. The development of a standardised approach to smart charging, which has the acceptance of all major European and American vehicle manufacturers, is crucial for the future. This standard, ISO 15118, pioneered by RWE (npower’s parent company) has meant businesses can protect themselves. For the first time, ‘smart charging’ has been defined and characterised and technology developed by RWE meets the requirements of this forward looking standard. Technology which meets this standard leads the way to fully automated and standardised communication between the vehicle and the energy charging infrastructure. This enables all aspects of the charging process to be captured, managed and controlled.

Developments in how to encourage users to charge at certain times to potentially deliver cost savings and avoid unnecessary pressure on the grid are underway. Likewise, it will be possible to link energy use for recharging to renewable sources of energy generation, making the energy used to power the vehicle highly sustainable.  For businesses looking to develop their green CSR credentials further, this should be an appealing prospect.

Work also continues to help companies offer electric vehicle recharging points for employees’ own vehicles at work or at home and to put in place charging tariffs and energy invoicing methods.

Companies looking to benefit from the advantages offered by electric vehicles either for fleets or for their employees, need to be thinking five to ten years down the line. By seeking out the expertise and the advanced electric vehicle technology solutions that exist now, companies will not only be addressing practical cost pressures they face today but will also be prepared for an alternative and more sustainable transport future.


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