The logistics sector has warned the government it won’t be able to transition to net zero without significant infrastructure investment.
Transport companies have demanded a clear plan from government to help decarbonise the industry, including financial support for small operators looking to switch to electric trucks, as well as improved infrastructure such as more electric charging points.
“[Electric lorries] are a huge burden for small operators and they need some help,” said Road Haulage Association communications director Rod McKenzie at the Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham on Tuesday. New electric trucks could cost three times their diesel equivalent, he added.
The government launched its ‘Decarbonising Transport’ plan in 2021 as part of wider ambitions to become net zero by 2050.
A key part of its ambitions to deliver a zero emissions freight and logistics sector is the phasing out of sales of new non-zero emission HGVs by 2035.
However, new analysis by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has showed that most logistics companies could not even consider decarbonising their lorries because of a lack of infrastructure for greener vehicles.
The RHA confirmed that reduced access to adequate charging points was a major barrier to the wider adoption of electric vehicles.
“Electric charging points for lorries at a motorway service station would need the same amount of electricity that would power a village of 2,000 people with all their devices switched on, so it’s a massive challenge for us,” McKenzie said. ”We need some guidance from the government about what the realistic road map is to net zero.”
The SMMT’s analysis also noted there was not a single dedicated electric charging or hydrogen refuelling site for HGVs on any of the UK’s major roads.
This lack of infrastructure made it “impossible for the vast majority of operators to contemplate investments to decarbonise their fleets, putting critical CO2 emission savings of up to 21.1 million tonnes a year at risk,” the SMMT report stated.
The potential for lorries to run out of electricity or hydrogen mid-delivery was a “key concern” for the logistics sector, it added.
SMMT CEO Mike Hawes warned Britain “cannot afford to delay” its logistics & freight decarbonisation strategy, as the timescale for trucks was the same as for cars and vans, despite the electric lorry market being “two decades behind that of passenger cars”.
“Manufacturers are investing billions in electric and hydrogen vehicles that will deliver massive CO2 savings, and it is vital that operators making long-term decisions today have full confidence in these technologies, that they will be commercially viable and allow them to keep costs down for consumers.”
Big supermarkets and logistics operators have been investing in making their fleets greener in recent years – both Tesco and Sainsbury’s started introducing fully electric refrigerated trucks to their delivery fleets back in 2021, and Sainsbury’s recently completed a hydrogen-powered HGV trial with EV manufacturer Electra.
But the RHA has said the transition will only be possible for operators of all size if the government accelerates investment in public charging and hydrogen refuelling as “no business wants to invest in assets that may become worthless if government policy does not support their use”.
“For businesses to invest in alternative fuels, they first need assurance from government as to what infrastructure will be available, something that is currently lacking,” said Michelle Gardner, Logistics UK’s deputy director of policy.
“As well as public charging, the importance of on-site infrastructure must not be forgotten. Members have already reported costs of over £1 million to upgrade depot power supplies, and where battery electric is likely to be adopted among lighter HGVs, Logistics UK is urging a fair and equitable approach be adopted for depot charging funding.”
“A UK government infrastructure charging strategy for HGVs and how the UK’s rapid charging fund could be used to support deployment for the sector would be very helpful to drive investment and incentivise the transition”, said Alex Harrison, partner at law firm Akin.
The government set up a new Freight Energy Forum earlier this month to bring industry players together, including the RHA, Logistics UK and National Grid, and support them in their transition to net zero by 2050.