World’s biggest commercial electric vehicle project announced for UK
The world’s biggest trial of commercial electric vehicles
has been given the green light by UK energy regulator Ofgem, bringing together
leading fleet, power, technology and transport companies to test and implement
the best approaches to their rollout for businesses.
With businesses buying 58% of all new vehicles in the UK, it
will be commercial vehicles that determine the speed of the transition to low
carbon transport, according to the project’s backers.
This three-year innovation project will come up with
practical ways of overcoming the up-front costs that are currently holding back
many of the country’s biggest commercial vehicle operators from making the
switch to electric vehicles, it is claimed.
Led by global data technology solutions provider Hitachi
Vantara and electricity distributor UK Power Networks, the trial will see up to
3,000 electric vehicles from Centrica, Uber and a large UK depot-based parcel
carrier take to the road, supported by distributor Scottish and Southern
Electricity Networks, Hitachi Europe and Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions.
The electric vehicles will take to the roads in Greater
London as part of project Optimise Prime to gather vital information that will
help the UK to prepare for and speed up the transition to a greener and more
The project will launch in early 2019. Following a programme
design and build phase, the first Optimise Prime vehicles will be on the road
during the second half of 2019. The test area will include a range of urban,
suburban and rural scenarios across the South East, South Central and East of
To help the wider industry prepare, the largest cross-industry
datasets on commercial electric vehicle charging and use will be shared openly.
A total of £18 million will be funded through partner
contributions, and an additional £16.6 million will come from Ofgem via its
Network Innovation Competition. Ofgem’s funding will, it is claimed, deliver
total savings of more than £200 million - equivalent to 12 times the funded
amount - in benefits to UK electricity customers.
The project will deliver an end-to-end overview of what the
switch to electric vehicles means for the cables and substations that deliver
electricity to the community, for the businesses that need to invest in new
infrastructure, and for the end users that need to power their vehicles. It is
intentionally vehicle agnostic and includes depot, home, and on-the-road
Using large, real-life datasets and Internet of Things
technologies, the project will create a detailed picture of the demands of
electric fleet and private hire vehicles. That will make it possible to develop
solutions that cut the cost of owning and running electric vehicles, such as
charging electric vehicles outside the electricity network’s peak times, it is
In a statement, the project’s backers said: “Electric
vehicle technology has now reached a maturity where the vehicles themselves are
ready for day-to-day and long-distance commercial use.
“However, moving the energy source for transport from
combustion engines is not something the electricity grid was designed for,
whether charging happens in concentrated locations - such as depots - or is
widespread at employees’ homes or in public places.
“The UK’s big commercial vehicle operators must overcome
several obstacles before they adopt electric vehicles on a large scale - all
the way from the up-front capital hurdle to managing charging times.
“Network operators, meanwhile, need to get a better
understanding of the impact of commercial electric vehicles on the country’s
electricity grid. They are also looking to understand whether these vehicles
can support the electricity network and help keep costs low for customers by
discharging during peak times and recharging off-peak.
“The project is also vital if the UK wants to meet its
carbon reduction targets. The accelerated adoption of commercial electric
vehicles will save 2.7 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to London’s entire bus
fleet running for four years or a full Boeing 747-400 travelling around the
world 1,484 times. The flexibility provided by the project will also free up
enough capacity on the electricity network to supply a million homes.”
Jon Lawes, managing director, Hitachi Capital Vehicle
Solutions, said: “Embracing electric vehicles is at the heart of Hitachi
Capital’s strategy. We will have real insight of how to effectively operate
electric vehicles on the UK roads from charging through to a true cost of
operation. This will provide a great opportunity to adopt electric vehicles
from a position of knowledge rather than guesswork.”
Ian Cameron, head of
innovation, UK Power Networks, said: “For electric vehicles it’s no longer a
case of the tipping point, but the jumping point, because when large-scale
commercial electric vehicle operators decide to switch from petrol or diesel to
electric the impact will be instant. There’s incredible potential to improve
the air quality of our towns and cities and we want to help that happen at the
lowest possible cost to our customers.”