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Foodstuffs New Zealand has one of the biggest electric delivery fleets in New Zealand and was awarded the Fleet Champion of the Year at this year’s EVworld NZ expo

Electric pace of EV uptake – By Iain MacIntyre

New Zealanders’ uptake of electric and hybrid light vehicles is continuing at an exponential rate, with the latest Ministry of Transport figures confirming 10,885 such registrations were active as of the end of October 2018.

This comes from a base of just 193 registrations as of January 2013 and follows the May 2016 launch of the government’s electric vehicles programme with its goal of achieving 64,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the country’s roads by the end of 2021.

One of the key fostering components of the overall programme is the Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund, administered by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA). Since its inaugural round in September 2016, the fund – which has a total of $17 million to allocate over three years – has continued to be significantly oversubscribed, as evidenced by the following:

  • • Round one – 85 applications, seeking $27 million
  • • Round two – 46 applications, seeking $9 million
  • • Round three – 55 applications, seeking $11.8 million
  • • Round four – 74 applications, seeking $15 million
  • • Round five – 77 applications, seeking $14 million.
At the time of writing (mid-November), the first independent panel moderation meeting to consider applications under round five – for which it is understood a total of $4.38 million remains for allocation – was due to take place.

Although there is consequently no insight yet available as to these potential future projects, a review of the previous round reveals that 19 projects had initially been approved for a combined total of $3.87 million funding. As one charging and one bus project subsequently did not advance to the contract stage, this round ultimately encompassed the following initiatives:

  • • Charging – five
  • • Electric vans – six
  • • Car share – one
  • • Electric trucks – three
  • • Technology – one
  • • Buses – one.
New World Morrinsville manager Samuel Fletcher and Matamata-Piako District Council Mayor Jan Barnes with the EV charger recently installed at New World Morrinsville

Proving their viability

EECA programme partnerships manager Richard Briggs says a key driver of the fund is to aid opportunities to prove the basic business-as-usual viability of these various ground-breaking initiatives.

“A lot of it is about ‘hey, can I do this with an electric vehicle?’” he tells FTD. “An electric car is quite easy, because they exist – but ‘can I get a 15-tonne truck to perform this task?’ I know a couple of the projects were to build 15-tonne trucks and get them on the road for a variety of jobs – there were street sweepers, for example. One of the earlier rounds, which was well publicised, was Waste Management’s rubbish truck. Who would have thought you could do that?

“The thing is, these things don’t exist. I suppose it is overcoming the fear and trepidation of electrifying a vehicle for use in the fleet – it is not so much the vehicle itself, but the application in the environment,” he says.

With the cost of fuel reaching new heights in New Zealand, Mr Briggs has also observed a shift in dynamics. “The contestable fund is about demonstrating and trialling new technologies, which is going to happen regardless of the fuel price. The amount of oversubscription we get for this is phenomenal and it is not tailing off.

“[But with] the early adopters of electric cars, it was all about the environment and what’s good for the planet and others. What the fuel cost has done now is … it is shifting from that environmental element to more of a personal value ‘to me’. The fuel costs are getting them to consider it more.”

Despite the added impetus of other prominent drivers – none more so than the recent call of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C by 2030 – Mr Briggs is nonetheless not yet suggesting the government’s EV target should be revised upwards. “We’re a little concerned that there is a supply/demand issue. If the demand oversteps supply, then that is going to be reflected in the price,” he notes.

Success stories

One of the businesses to have successfully leveraged the fund previously is Foodstuffs New Zealand, with the firm’s sustainability manager, Mike Sammons, confirming 28 electric delivery vans are now supplying orders nationwide, made via its ‘I Shop New World’ online platform.

“This is one of the biggest electric delivery fleets in New Zealand and resulted in Foodstuffs being awarded the Fleet Champion of the Year at this year’s EVworld NZ expo,” he says. “We also have 50 stores with fast-charging EV stations in their carparks for public use, with more being added each month. This represents half of the country’s locations for public fast-charging stations and is a sign of our commitment to making improvements that benefit shoppers and the environment.”

Another recent initiative aimed at encouraging the uptake of EVs is Meridian Energy’s offer to cover the cost of the vehicle’s charging for a year. A switch to its ‘electric car plan’ results in a $300 bill credit (based on the value of a 2015 Nissan LEAF charging overnight and having an annual travel of 11,500 km).

Corporate sector interest

EV advocacy group Drive Electric has observed a growing interest within the corporate sector to move towards EVs – as evidenced by the number of companies having recently joined the organisation’s ranks.

Drive Electric chairperson Mark Gilbert says the group’s level of influence to push for more EVs on New Zealand roads will increase as its membership grows.“With members from a diverse number of sectors, including automotive, electricity retail and distribution, financial services and car leasing, it helps reinforce that EVs are a key element in transforming New Zealand’s transport future,” he says.

EECA’s Mr Briggs concurs that his organisation has also observed this trend within the corporate sector, and has been in active discussions with fleet operators to help them navigate the numerous associated challenges. These include establishing vehicle charging infrastructure in carparks and upgrading building electricity networks, as well as determining the ownership of the associated costs.

EECA programme partnerships manager Richard Briggs: “A key driver of the fund is to aid opportunities to prove the basic viability of these ground-breaking initiatives”

“All of these types of things have been quite challenging for businesses going to EVs. So in the future there’s scope for agencies like EECA to work with these organisations and help new adopters with a guide to being aware that these are the potential issues, and how to overcome these when moving the fleet to electric.”

Iain MacIntyre is an award-winning journalist who specialises in transport issues within New Zealand; he can be contacted at i.macintyre@xtra.co.nz

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