Electric vehicles: a game changer for the transport industry

Thu | 28 Apr 2022 | News

Electric vehicles: a game changer for the transport industry

In 2025, the first steps will be taken towards creating urban zones (ZEZ) that will exclude any vehicles that are not emission-free by 2030. This means that companies which have to pick up or deliver goods in these zones will have to switch to using electric vehicles (EVs). There will be many factors to consider. Which types of EVs will you need? Is it better to lease or buy? What battery capacity do you need? How and where will you charge the EVs? All this will have a major impact on your planning, IT systems and data use. Rene Bruijne, Simacan’s expert in urban distribution, has summed up the key focus points.

From 1 January 2025, zero-emission zones will be introduced in at least 30 cities in the Netherlands. From then on, any trucks or vans used to deliver building materials, drop off parcels or replenish stores in these areas will have to be emission-free: running on either electricity or hydrogen. This measure was agreed upon by the Dutch government and transport sector two years ago within the framework of the Climate Agreement signed by the previous Rutte government in 2019. Prior to that, the Paris Climate Agreement had stipulated that all transport must be emission-free by 2020. In other words, it is only a matter of time before all trucks on European roads are powered by electricity or hydrogen.

The transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles will undoubtedly be a total game changer for the transport sector. Anyone who thinks that this is simply a matter of ‘buying different trucks’ has not fully understood the implications and will be in for a few surprises. This is a major transition and it is crucial to prepare for it: What battery capacity will you need for each type of vehicle? How should you organise your charging infrastructure? Few people realise that electric transport means having to plan differently. Allocating trips, planning routes and communicating with customers will all become a whole new ball game.

Purchasing EV trucks

Let’s start with the purchase decision. When is a good time to make the switch? How is the pricing of EV trucks evolving, and when will the total cost of ownership be equal to that of diesel trucks? If you look at the current developments in diesel prices, this point could be reached within just a few years. Choosing a brand and model of electric truck involves different considerations than if you were buying a diesel-powered truck. One particularly important decision concerns battery capacity: the greater the capacity, the more expensive the vehicle. Many people base their calculations on the cruising range, i.e. how far you can drive on a fully-charged battery, but this is not a straightforward calculation to make. You need to estimate how many kWh per kilometre you require, but this depends on a multitude of factors, such as driving style, outdoor temperature, wind, load weight, the number of stops, height differences and the type of road being driven on, to name but a few. Bearing your entire fleet in mind, you will have to devise a cost-effective way to allocate different battery capacities to each type of truck, based on the routes you will be driving in the future – so it’s a complex puzzle, to say the least.

Charging infrastructure

In addition to choosing a truck type and battery capacity, you will also have to consider how you are going to charge your vehicles. What type of charging stations do you want to be installed at your company? Can you use private charging areas on business estates, for example, and if so, how often? Another consideration is that, in Europe, nearly all of this infrastructure has yet to be built. The costs of installing a charging station for trucks vary from €40,000 for a standard model to as much as €300,000 for a cooled fast charger. As you’ve probably guessed, the key difference is how long it takes to fully charge a battery. Once more, this decision is anything but straightforward: a fast charger saves time and gives a higher return, but it is also more expensive and is detrimental to the battery’s service life. And then there’s the question of whether your business premises even have the required network capacity, which gives you yet another factor to investigate.

An alternative option would be to install charging stations together with other businesses, perhaps at the industrial estate or logistics park where your company is located. Your drivers could also use public charging stations or charging areas while out on the road, charging their vehicles during their breaks. But can you be sure that these stations will be free when you need them, or do you need to reserve them in advance? This would mean having to adjust your planning to select routes that lead past (available) charging stations and to include the time needed to recharge. This brings us onto the topic of how switching to electric vehicles will affect your planning.

Planning trips

Planning, monitoring and analysing trips is not only more complicated for electric vehicles than for diesel-powered trucks, but also more important. When planning trips, you must be able to assess the battery capacity available to your trucks, taking account of driving conditions such as the distances still to be driven, the number of stops, the weather conditions and the load weight. You will also have to take delivery windows, zero-emission zones and weight-restricted areas into consideration.

Not only must you anticipate battery use during the pre-trip phase, but you must also remain aware of this throughout each trip. Smart execution platforms should continuously monitor whether the battery has enough power left to complete the trip according to schedule, factoring in elements such as in-between stops and other aspects. This depends on a multitude of circumstances that are difficult to predict, such as the driver’s driving style and behaviour, volume of traffic and accidents. Actual conditions may be very different from the ones you had planned for. Besides monitoring events, you must also be able to intervene if something may be about to go wrong. This means you need an effective IT platform connecting all the partners in the chain, so that you don’t have to keep making individual phone calls or sending emails or apps.

An example of planning trips for an EV truck

Imagine that an electric truck has to make a trip involving 42 stops in and around a large city. The driver sets off with a fully-charged 230kWh battery, so he should be able to drive 235km in the seven hours required to complete the trip. According to the plan, the battery should still have 70kWh left when the truck returns to the DC, so that should be no problem.
However, on the day in question, it’s considerably colder than expected, which reduces the battery’s range. This particular driver has a ‘snappy’ driving style and accelerates hard after every traffic light and delivery stop. As a result, the battery needs an extra recharge in between stops 18 and 19 – so the original schedule is no longer feasible.

Rescheduling and communication

The planner at this company needs as much information as possible regarding both the anticipated and actual battery use. A smart execution platform using data and smart algorithms calculates that it will probably be necessary to make an extra stop between stops 18 and 19 to recharge the vehicle. This forecast appears immediately on the planner’s screen so that they can adjust the schedule. Needless to say, it is necessary to inform the recipients at stops 19 and 20 about the delay, and maybe other parties involved. All communication is be sent from a shared real-time platform to avoid constant phone calls, apps and/or emails. The fleet manager is also automatically notified that, even with the extra recharge underway, the truck will only have 15kWh battery capacity instead of the anticipated 70kWh upon its return to the depot. This enables the fleet manager to adjust the planning for the charging infrastructure to ensure that the truck is recharged in preparation for subsequent trips in good time.

Monitoring and adjusting

If a delivery time has changed due to an empty battery, it is important to inform the recipients about the length of the delay and the new estimated time of arrival (ETA). As a company, you must provide transparency at all times. When a trip is almost complete and all the goods have been delivered, the planner will want to know how much battery power the EV truck still has. Will this be enough for the next trip? And if not, where can the truck be recharged and how long will this take? One way to save costs is by ‘load balancing’ – buying electricity when it is cheaper during off-peak hours – so that’s yet another factor to incorporate into your planning.

Although not strictly necessary, it’s a good idea to carefully save all data related to electric transport and analyse it thoroughly at set intervals. How much does it cost to charge an EV truck? What about the availability of charging stations? And how is use affected by circumstances? The more insight you have into such matters, the better you will be able to plan. This will improve your service quality and make you a more reliable partner for your customers. You will also be able to see where the bottlenecks are and to make continuous improvements to your supply chain network. Electric driving generates a wealth of new data for data analysts to get their teeth into.

As indicated above, the transition to electric driving involves a great deal more than just buying new vehicles. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it will be a real game changer.

Simacan and EV

Electric driving is one of the main focus points on Simacan’s roadmap. We have already acquired a wealth of knowledge about what EVs will mean for planning, communication and collaboration between shippers and carriers. We remain committed to this and are happy to explore the topic in more detail together with our customers.
Please feel free to contact us to discover how we can help you.

More information about electrification in logistics

For more detailed information about electrification in logistics you read our blog (with report) about the research we did with Topsector Logistiek and Districon to find the best electric transport solution for urban distribution.

In May 2022, we organised a webinar on this exact topic and all the questions it raises. You can watch the recording here:

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