One of Britain’s largest energy suppliers is urging the Government to retain incentives which support the introduction of electric vehicles on fleets for at least another three years.
Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, has been trialling six electric vehicles on its 14,900-strong fleet and pledged to grow that to 125 by the end of 2013.
This would make it by far the largest lithium-ion electric vehicle fleet in the UK (NB Dairy Crest operates 1,800 EVs – all lead acid).
However, Dan Taylor, innovation director at British Gas, told Fleet News that Government incentives are crucial if the technology is to get a foothold in the UK fleet market.
“If that doesn’t happen you’re not going to get the early investment to prove whether or not it works and the charging infrastructure is not going to get built,” said Taylor.
“A lot of people are very tentative about entering the market, because they don’t know what the car or van is going to be worth in the life cycle.
“The only way we’re going to find that out is if we’re going to get a meaningful number of cars and vans that are three years old. So it’s imperative over the next three to four years that we continue to incentivise the technology then we can understand the economic case.”
That offers 20% off an eligible electric van up to a maximum of £8,000, with £300 million made available for both schemes during the lifetime of this Parliament.
According to the Department for Transport (DfT), 1,276 claims had been made through the plug-in car scheme as of March 31, with Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) data showing that 1,412 cars eligible for the grant were registered over the same period.
The number of claims made through the plug-in van grant scheme will be published from July 2012 onwards. But a recent report commissioned by the DfT suggested that electric vans in particular may never be cheaper to run than diesel versions.
Centrica’s foray into EVs “started relatively gently” in June 2011, according to Taylor, with two Nissan Leafs shared between its head office in Windsor and British Gas’s head office in Staines.
Both sites have solar-powered charging canopies, supplying enough renewable electricity to cover 70% of the cars’ fuel needs. “They have helped get employees engaged in EVs and have clocked-up between them 7,000 miles in the first six months,” said Taylor.
The company also made the Leaf available on its company car scheme three months ago and four employees have already opted for the pure EV.
But it’s on the van fleet where British Gas harbours the most ambition, signalling its intention to be running 125 electric vans by the end of 2013 and 1,000 by 2015.
Colin Marriott, fleet general manager at Centrica, said: “We are keen to learn more about EVs from a fleet operations perspective and are excited about embracing this new technology.”
Currently, the company has one electric van on trial – a Nissan NV200 – and five Leafs that have been following engineers on their rounds fully loaded to assess “any operational issues”, says Taylor.
“It’s important that we understand how to make the most of the technology. In London, engineers don’t drive too far and there is real potential. But if we’re up in the Highlands it may be different.”
British Gas has a vested interest in ensuring EVs are a success.
It is the preferred installer of charging points for Nissan, Renault and Toyota, as well as Hitachi Capital’s EV fleet offering, which means it will have 70% coverage of the EV market in 2012, according to research by Market Gravity.
Residential tariffs have been designed to accommodate home and business charging and around 250 specially-trained employees are installing charging infrastructure in homes and businesses.
Taylor added: “If we are going to meet Government targets around decarbonisation we have got to do something about transport and EVs are the answer.”
British Gas is keen to hear from others undertaking fleet EV trials to share experiences and understand their operating models. Email email@example.com.