By Quinton de Villiers
Diesel has been our industry’s lifeblood for so long that it is almost impossible to imagine operating without it.
Yet, this is fast becoming a reality, considering global trends which point to a vastly different future, where we will no longer be concerned with volatile fuel prices and where our industry stands out as a major driver of sustainability, or the “green” revolution.
A quick scan of international news stories reveals just how fast the world has made strides to rid itself of an insatiable addiction to fuel by replacing the internal-combustion engine (ICE) with cleaner electric vehicles (EVs).
In China, sales of pure EVs rose 65% to 409 000 units in 2016, accounting for as much as 80% of what the country now refers to as “new energy vehicles”.
There is no doubt this trend will continue as the country’s government implements more measures to eventually completely eradicate ICEs from its already heavy-polluted cities by 2030.
Realistically, this will take years to implement, considering the extensive infrastructure, including recharging stations, required to support such an ambitious strategy. However, it does dismiss those naysayers, who thought hydrocarbons were here to stay.
This follows hot on the heels of similar developments in the United Kingdom, where the country’s government also intends substituting all existing vehicles on roads with EVs by this time.
By the end of 2016, there were about 30 different EV offerings in the United States, which currently boasts a vehicle population of 159 139 of these “greener” cars.
Meanwhile, Norway remains the largest market for brands, such as Tesla Model X, 874 VW e-Golfs and Opel Ampera E, with plans to only have EVs on its roads as early as 2025. In June this year, 27% of new cars sold in the country were EVs.
The rate of adoption of the technology there is 10 times that of other markets, and can mainly be attributed to a 25% tax incentive for purchasers of these cars.
Interestingly, these policies are being driven by the government of a nation that is also a significant oil producer, and talks to the changing face of industry.
While “disruptors”, such as Elon Musk with his Tesla brand, continue to dominate the headlines, stalwarts in the global truck and engine manufacturing industry have not been resting on their laurels. They have anticipated this transition to an electric era.
For example, Cummins intends selling its Class 7 heavy-duty truck cab featuring a 140 kWh battery pack to bus operators and commercial truck fleets as early as 2019.
The leading engine manufacturer unveiled this technology this year and, in so doing, beat Tesla to its anticipated launch of a heavy-duty electric truck. This is the outcome of extensive research and development in the field of electric vehicles, complementing the many advances the OEM has already made in other areas of clean energy technology.
Cummins’ electric power train is suited to delivery applications and short-haul trips and, while it will take about an hour to recharge, the OEM is working on reducing this period to 20 minutes by 2020.
Meanwhile, Volvo Trucks continues to work on its first hybrid truck technology for long-haul applications that promises to reduce fuel consumption by between five and 10%, depending on operating conditions. The company launched this concept last year and continues to build on the technology, demonstrating its commitment to an electric future.
The OEM’s powertrain recovers energy when driving downhill on slopes steeper than one per cent, or when braking. This energy is stored in the vehicle’s batteries and used to power the truck in electric mode on flat roads or low gradients, which could be up to 30% of a long-distance haulers’ total drive time.
I am also interested in announcements from Scania, which says that trucks powered by electricity are able to reduce fossil fuel emissions by up to 90% and energy consumption by a minimum of 50%.
The company recently announced that it is testing the performance of its trucks on an electrified section of highway in Stockholm. The trucks receive electrical power via pantograph power collectors on their roofs which are then connected to overhead power lines. These vehicles are equipped with an electric hybrid powertrain developed by Scania.
Certainly, this technology is very similar to the trolley line concept that has been used so successfully to reduce diesel burn in large-scale opencast mining hauling operations, and it is encouraging to see the concept is may be rolled out in other applications, including a a city environment.
Moreover, Scania is the first company in Scandinavia to test a wirelessly charged electric-hybrid city bus, which is charged wirelessly from the road surface in only six to seven minutes.
This begs the question: is South Africa ready for the change?
Time will tell, considering that there are about 200 BMW and 100 Nissan Leafs now operating in the country, and only 40 stations at which to charge.
This is a tiny contribution to total global EV sales, which have more than doubled since 2014, following as much as a 75% spike in 2014 and a 41% global increase in 2016 to reach a vehicle population of 777 497.
Despite this, South Africa is a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change. This means that our government has committed to having more than 2,9-million electric cars operating its roads by 2050. These targets are also highlighted in its Strategy for Policy Direction Promoting Green Transport Technologies in South Africa.
As a responsible logistics operator, Bridgewater Logistics believes that more needs to be done, and that South Africa simply cannot afford to be left behind, considering that vehicles on our roads are responsible for 10% of South Africa’s carbon emissions and the majority of toxic pollutants released in densely packed cities.
It remains a concern that these emissions still contribute towards the air-pollution related deaths of 20 000 people every year.
Quinton de Villiers is the founder and managing director of Bridgewater Logistics with a long and impressive track-record in African logistics and security. Follow Quinton at #InTheFastLane for more insights and expert commentary on African transport and logistics.