Research shows:

Plug-in hybrid truck most practical interim solution for shop replenishment in zero-emission zones

Wed | 22 Jun 2022 | News
Research by Top Sector Logistics, Districon and Simacan shows:

Plug-in hybrid truck most practical interim solution for shop replenishment in zero-emission zones

Large retailers are preparing for the announced zero-emission zones that will be introduced in various Dutch cities from 2025. From then on, shops within these ZE-zones can no longer be supplied with diesel trucks. This requires a renewal of the fleet, but also a different approach towards planning routes. This is because E-trucks only have a limited action radius, recharging takes time and there are currently not enough recharging stations. Research commissioned by Top Sector Logistics shows that the plug-in hybrid truck can be a suitable interim solution: for the route between DC and a city you use the engine, in the city centre you switch to electric. According to René Bruijne of Simacan, an expert in the field of urban distribution, this is a 'cleaner' alternative than working with a city hub.

With the Fit for 55 programme - an EU Green Deal initiative - the European Commission has laid down how it intends to achieve the climate objective of '55% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030'. The transport sector in particular faces drastic measures because it produces a quarter of all emissions. In this context, and to improve the quality of life in city centres, a number of large cities have already announced so-called zero-emission zones (ZEZ). In these zones, retailers are only allowed to supply their shops with 'clean' vehicles from 2025 onwards, i.e. vehicles that do not emit any CO2. These can be fully electric trucks but also hybrid vehicles are allowed, provided that the fuel engine is completely turned off within the environmental zone. Because this is difficult to enforce, the intention is that from 2030 these hybrid trucks will no longer be allowed, and only 'fully electric' vehicles will be accepted.

Impact on retail distribution

The switch from diesel to full electric or hybrid trucks will have a major impact on how retailers manage their retail distribution, says Rene Bruijne. "E-trucks have a much shorter action radius and therefore need to be recharged more often than a diesel truck needs to be refuelled. How often, depends on a multitude of factors, such as the load weight, the weather conditions and, above all, the driving behaviour of the driver. Recharging is not possible everywhere, because there are only a limited number of truck recharging stations and recharging at shops is impractical. When planning trips, retailers and transporters must explicitly take this into account. And because the circumstances are so variable, this planning will have to be adjusted continuously."

Can e-trucks take over existing routes?

An important question for retailers right now is: can shops be supplied with electric or hybrid trucks from the current DC locations, or do they need additional hubs where goods are transshipped? To put it differently: Which clean trucks have sufficient range to make a trip from the existing DCs to the various shops and return to the DC without recharging, just like the current diesel trucks? That is what the Top Sector Logistics study was supposed to provide insight into. To answer this question, they asked the experts from Districon and Simacan to calculate a number of existing distribution trips, based on technical data of vehicles and realistic data of retailers. Two types of trucks were compared: fully electric and plug-in-hybrid.

Plug-in hybrid versus full electric

An extensive report on the research results has been published. The most important finding in this report is that plug-in-hybrid trucks can, in principle, carry out the same trips as diesel trucks. On the routes between the zero-emission zones, the battery can always be charged enough to be able to handle the stops within these zones fully electrically. For the fully electric trucks, however, this turned out to be a different story. They can already take care of a considerable part of the current trips, namely 34% to 100%, but certainly not all of them. Bruijne: "This depends to a large extent on the circumstances. In the study, we worked with various scenarios and calculated all relevant parameter settings: quiet weeks versus peak weeks, bad weather versus nice weather, experienced or less experienced driver, et cetera. Then you see that these conditions are very decisive for what you can achieve with an e-truck."

Cityhub not an attractive alternative

Conclusion: For retailers who want to realise an emission free last mile to their shops in the coming years, or by 2025 at the latest, plug-in hybrid trucks currently seem to be the best option. For making full trips, i.e. the same trips that are currently made by diesels, the fully electric trucks still fall short, so that transhipment hubs would have to be used. According to Bruijne, however, this is not an attractive alternative: "Not only would it make the operation much more complex, it would also require a lot of extra equipment and personnel. Another big disadvantage is that you would still have to drive the long distances from DC to hub in a diesel truck and my estimation is that, on balance, you would end up polluting more than if you drove the entire journey in a hybrid truck. A feature of a plug-in hybrid is that it has an extremely efficient engine, which charges the battery as efficiently as possible while driving.”

Payback period still uncertain

According to Bruijne, however, retailers and transporters still need to acquire a great deal of knowledge before they can make the right decisions. "The cost of an electric truck is still three times as high as a traditional diesel truck. What is the right moment to step in and how do you recoup the costs? That is really difficult. Especially as additional legislation is constantly being introduced and the technology has not yet been fully developed. At the moment, hybrids seem favourable, but the expectation is that the range of electric trucks will increase considerably and that there will come a time when hybrids will no longer be allowed in inner cities. That moment is now set for 2030, while the depreciation period for such a truck is eight years. What is the wise thing to do? Nobody knows exactly and that is why it is so important that this kind of research is carried out. From Simacan we are happy to contribute to this."

Download the report here

More information about electrification in logistics

Read our blog on how electric vehicles are a game changer for the transport industry and you can watch the recording below of our webinar with the same subject and what it all entails.

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.

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