EVs must factor in future freight planning

In June this year, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) moved to establish an Electric Vehicles Working Group, after a series of discussions with leading industry participants revealed a significant degree of enthusiasm about the potential application of electric vehicles in the industry.

The Working Group comprises a large number of ALC member companies that are committed to improving the uptake of electric vehicles operating within Australia’s freight logistics network.

There are several reasons why forward-thinking freight logistics operators are eager to make electric freight vehicles a more common sight on our roads.

The most significant of these relates to the obvious environmental benefits.

The current and potential effects of climate change and particulate emissions – including temperature rises, sea level rises and air pollution– are causing logistics operators to actively pursue ways to reduce their carbon footprints.

It is equally true that logistics consumers and investors are also conscious of these effects, and the maintenance of a positive public profile is a powerful incentive for many operators to improve their environmental performance.

A study undertaken for the EU found that an electric vehicle using electricity generated from a coal fired power plant is only using two-thirds of the energy a petrol/diesel vehicle would use to travel the same distance.

However, electric vehicles can also offer other significant operational benefits for freight logistics operators that extend well beyond environmental considerations.

Generally speaking, electric vehicles also offer a lower noise profile than conventional internal combustion engines, and thus reduce noise pollution.

This is an important consideration for freight vehicles servicing large retailers, especially supermarkets, who are often not able deliver produce to stores at night due to noise curfews enforced by local governments.

The use of quieter electric vehicles is one way to overcome this existing barrier to greater supply chain efficiency.

There is a further consideration that makes electric vehicles an attractive option for freight logistics operators – particularly those who operate large vehicle fleets.

Electric vehicles are able to avoid Fuel Excise Tax – which is currently levied at $0.409/litre. Although upfront capital costs for electric vehicles are higher than for petrol/diesel vehicles, it is also often cheaper to maintain and operate an electric vehicle.

Consequently, many industry participants now believe that when life cycle costs are taken into account, it is ultimately cheaper to purchase an electric vehicle.

Some of Australia’s largest logistics providers are already factoring this into plans for the future.

Linfox Logistics, the Asia-Pacific region’s largest privately owned logistics company, has publicly indicated it wishes to be the “first mover” on electric trucks, and is trialling the technology at purpose built facilities.

To further prepare, Linfox is investing in necessary infrastructure, including 500kW of solar panels installed at their warehouses to date, with plans to increase this energy generation across Australia.

Linfox is also implementing electric vehicle material handling equipment at their sites and building electric vehicle requirements into its new sites.

Qube is similarly preparing for an electric vehicle future by installing charging infrastructure as its major new Moorebank Intermodal Terminal in Western Sydney, which is currently under construction.

Despite this clear industry engagement, there remains a major stumbling block to more widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Australia’s freight logistics industry.

This was highlighted by ALC in its recent submission to an Inquiry being undertaken by the Senate Select Committee on Electric Vehicles, which is examining ways the Commonwealth Government can help address Australia’s comparatively sluggish uptake.

Research undertaken by the Electric Vehicle Council reveals that two thirds of motorists indicate that a lack of adequate charging infrastructure is their greatest hesitation in purchasing an electric vehicle.

This “range anxiety” will need to be addressed in order to significantly increase the number of electric vehicles in Australia’s logistics fleet.

As a potential solution, ALC has suggested that the Commonwealth Government can play a leading role in overcoming this problem by incentivising the installation of charging infrastructure for electric freight vehicles at distribution centres and warehouse facilities.

This could be achieved in the form of low-interest loans issued through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

There is clearly considerable interest within the freight logistics industry regarding the environmental and potential operational benefits that electric vehicles, including trucks, can offer.

The task now is for the industry to work cooperatively with governments to establish the infrastructure that will permit that potential to be realised.

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