Established in 1991, British organisation Energy Saving Trust (EST) is dedicated to promoting the sustainable use of energy. With the COP26 Climate Change Conference around the corner, Motor Finance caught up with EST’s senior programme manager for transport in England, Nick Harvey, to discuss how businesses can reduce their carbon footprint.

Tell us a bit about the EST and your aims?

The EST has one mission: to progress the country to a zero-carbon economy. EST has a team of dedicated experts within the sectors of heating, energy and transport looking to deliver initiatives on behalf of the government, while advancing our own personal missions and projects.

We need to address all levels of the hierarchy with regards to decarbonisation within the transport industry. One programme we administer on behalf of the Department for Transport looks at providing decarbonisation reports for large fleets – mapping their current carbon footprint with the existing vehicle fleet structure they have and providing the business with a roadmap for transitioning those vehicles to zero-emissions. This includes identifying like-for-like vehicles and future use patterns, so the company can factor in things like charging rather than refueling.

We also explore consolidation models as many fleets have more vehicles than they actually need. Being able to offer that service gives them the opportunity to reduce their fleet size, which reduces costs and acts as a supplemental benefit of decarbonisation.

Featured Quote: “We’re an independent organisation with no hidden agenda other than the mission to decarbonise transport for the good of everyone on the planet.”

We also offer SMEs a support package with some self-help information and online tools that smaller businesses can use to identify how they would transition their one or two vehicles to zero emission, as well as offering some more personal training for those people.

We know that some of the anxieties around transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) are based on false assumptions. To combat this, we offer a webinar where we will go through things like range anxiety and load capacity of EVs. There’s an opportunity to actually try some EVs free of charge. People can sit in an electric van; drive it around, understand its characteristics, its fueling patterns and its range.

Once we get past that anxiety, the majority, if not all, of people find EVs are actually better to drive and are more comfortable – on top of the environmental benefits.

What are the barriers in getting businesses to make the switch to EVs?

One of the main barriers is the initial transition of costs, certainly for the smaller businesses. The larger fleets for instance will have a replacement schedule in place for their fleet of vehicles. Those vehicles are usually no older than five years old, with an automatic renewal plan. So for those larger fleets, it really is just about identifying when that schedule is up and making sure that they understand and plan to change those to zero emission vehicles.

For the smaller operators they may not have that kind of foresight in their transport planning of vehicles. They hold onto their vehicles for much longer. Getting those businesses to make the leap and spend significant amounts of money to change from a diesel or a petrol vehicle to an EV is a barrier. We understand that and there are government subsidies out there to ease some of that financial pressure.

Beyond that we know there is still an anxiety around range and whether there are charging points. There is also a wider apprehension around the grid and power requirements for the mass transition to EVs.

What I can say is that all of these anxieties are usually addressed by government policy, with some things being planned for. Battery technology is developing all the time and the modern-day EV can now travel 200-300 miles on a single charge.

Charging infrastructure is being implemented on a daily basis – there are many projects ongoing for both residential and destination charging. In terms of the network capacity, DNOs and the government are working hard to ensure that the network is fit for purpose when the adoption curve ramps up. This includes smart charging initiatives with people incentivised to charge outside of peak hours on cheaper tariffs.

Another interesting solution is energy integration, where you’ll be able to charge your vehicle and use your car as battery storage for the network. If you imagine all of the cars in the country plugged into the network at any one time, most of those cars are not moving. If we can use that residual battery capacity within the parked cars as a buffer for the network during peak times, that will reduce the pressure on the network.

What feedback have you received from clients who have made the switch?

The feedback we get from our clients, whether that be businesses or local authorities, is very positive. Certainly, we think that a lot of the advice we do give is an enabler for transitioning vehicle fleets.

Our reports shed light on what is sometimes a very unknown quantity. Our experts are able to provide a roadmap for what the transition needs to look like, and we’re confident that those reports have been extremely useful for clients.

When we go back to see what has happened to those fleets, the vast majority have started that decarbonisation journey, either through transitioning their whole fleet or at least bringing in part of their fleet to zero-emission.

What impact has the pandemic had on the uptake of services?

The pandemic itself certainly had an impact on certain deliverables within our programme. A very simple one was all the physical events that we used to run. We also delivery a scheme for car dealerships that sell EVs, offering an accreditation of good practice. However, because of the pandemic, we saw a lot of those dealerships shut down.

Businesses were almost in survival mode and were not looking to extend themselves financially, and that included transitioning to new vehicles.

During the grips of the pandemic, I can say that we saw a slight dip in some of our programmes, but that has been equaled by the bounce that we’ve seen since coming out of lockdown. Businesses now understand there’s a new way of working, which probably includes more deliveries and not just the traditional courier businesses.

What we have noticed is an uptake in some of the grants that look to provide funding for the capture costs of zero emission vehicles.

What were your views on the recent IPCC report?

That report and the reports that came before it are saying the same thing, but what this IPCC report certainly does is put an exclamation mark on all things suggested in the previous reports with some powerful language.

Scientists are now certain that human interaction is causing catastrophic climate change and the rising temperatures well above the 1.5 degrees that we need to adhere to if we are going to stop further drastic climate events.

The timing of the report is only two months before COP26 where the major powers are going to discuss how they are going to tackle climate change. I think the punch and the power of it have certainly woken up a lot of businesses in the country. In these next few years we are going to see mass adoption of EVs. The supply and demand of those vehicles will probably be the limiting factor, rather than the willingness to transition.

What message would you give to businesses considering the switch to a lower emission proposition?

The schemes I really want the highlight centre around the SME engagement work that we do. If firms visit our website and search for SME engagement, they will see a long list of advice and online tools. We host physical events to debunk the myths around EVs and help companies understand what transition they need.

We’re an independent organisation with no preconception or hidden agenda other than the mission to decarbonise transport for the good of everyone on the planet.

We do also have several financial incentive programmes available – which depend on where the company is in the country. Certainly, in Scotland and England there are incentives that won’t be around forever. They exist to encourage the early take-up of EVs, so if you are thinking about it – act now and take advantage of the grants and interest-free loans available.