Grahame Neagus, Head of LCV at Renault Trucks UK & Ireland: 2021 has seen a huge growth in the registrations of electric vehicles and, with the introduction over the last 12 months of more electric HGVs, it is clear that change is coming fast.

Grahame Neagus, Head of LCV at Renault Trucks UK & Ireland.

However, as we race towards net zero road transport, with a number of technologies in the mix, the true TCO and environmental arguments are more complex than the headlines may at first suggest.

So what affects the overall TCO and environmental impact analysis?

For Renault Trucks, the last 14 years of electric vehicle production has provided us with the knowledge and experience to look at the cost parity of alternative fuels with diesel ownership and the impacts on the wider environment.

From a TCO cost perspective it is relatively simple: initial capital asset cost, in-life maintenance and service, in-life energy costs, Government incentives, in-life savings on congestion charges and finally the end-of-life residual value. All contribute to TCO, regardless of which alternative fuel you choose.

From an environmental impact perspective, however, you need to look at the bigger picture from ‘cradle to grave’ that includes emissions in service, but also the source of fuel and end-of-life recyclability of the product. This differs from country to country, for example Norway uses mainly renewable electricity from wind and hydro, which makes electromobility a truly green environmental choice, while Germany and Poland still rely on coal fired power stations for their electricity generation. However, in the UK, the National Grid is migrating from non-renewable to renewable energy sources, decarbonising by 66% in the last seven years with the ambition to be carbon-free by 2025.

So as a nation we are in a good position for electromobility powered by greener, cleaner energy.

Looking further forward, many see hydrogen as the ultimate fuel of the future. However, while there are still many hurdles to overcome in terms of price, production and distribution, just like electricity, the source of the fuel matters because there are at least three types of hydrogen available and all, more importantly, of varying degrees of emission effectiveness.

The main three are Grey, Blue and Green. Grey hydrogen comes from natural gas (without capturing the greenhouse gases) and produces 25% more CO2 than diesel. Blue hydrogen adds carbon capture and storage, but still produces only 12% less CO2 than grey hydrogen. Green (or clean) hydrogen is produced from renewable electricity, and offers 70% lower CO2 than today’s diesel engine, but requires high investment.

What is evident, is that in City, Urban and Regional operations, if the electricity generated is clean and green, as it is in the UK, the energy life cycle analysis and TCO for a fully electric 16 tonne truck running until 2034 can offer a reduction as high as 83% when compared to B7 diesel today. Such a reduction is based upon the complete life cycle of production build, in life usage, in life maintenance and then end of life recycling.

However, for operators looking to make the transition to alternative fuels, there is still uncertainty of estimated future costs and legislation, and a notable lack of government incentives to drive rapid change. While the Transport Decarbonisation Plan sets out a vision we can all share, by bringing forward the ban on diesel (to 2035 for vehicles between 3.5 to 26 tonnes and 2040 for vehicles over 26 tonnes) it is clear that the Government is hoping the supply chain will step up with zero-emission solutions.

As the current HGV driver crisis has highlighted, commercial vehicles are critical to the success of UK PLC. For operators to decarbonise as quickly as required, decisions regarding vehicle acquisition will need to take place now. The reality is that for this to happen we need more certainty, with a serious commitment to a national infrastructure strategy and specific support for all alternatively-fuelled commercial vehicles. Ahead of COP26, it’s time for Government to show how green it really is.

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