Meridian Procurement Manager Nick Robilliard attended – he gave a presentation on Meridian’s efforts to electrify its fleet. Also in Oslo was Liz Yeaman, a Wellington-based consultant focused on renewable energy for transport. So, what did they learn? What’s happening out there that New Zealand needs to take on board?
Meridian Energy procurement and property manager Nick Robilliard – Image source
Nick Robilliard prefaces his take on the summit with a caveat: New Zealand isn’t Norway or Sweden or the UK.
” We can learn lessons from these other countries and think about applying them here, but there are going to be things we have to do differently in this part of the world, and we’re going to have to do what kiwis do – innovate.”
Similarly, there are advantages in taking a measured approach. “For example, I think Norway has over-capitalised in their charging infrastructure with technology that you might say is first-generation,” he says. “By being a reasonably fast follower we can be agile and not get left behind, but do things in a way that is specific to this market and where we don’t have to go back and redo stuff. We can do this in a way that is smart and future-proofed.
Nick says Oslo both provided fresh insights and confirmed some of his thinking. On electrifying large fleets, for example: “Lease companies have been cautious to date, especially in New Zealand. What we saw over there was that some of the larger companies have produced EV lease service plans that make it affordable to electrify fleets by thinking laterally.”
Indeed, that idea of thinking creatively emerged as something of a theme in the fleet discussion at the summit. As Nick puts it, “Where you source the vehicle from may not be traditional; how long you own it and how you dispose of it may also not be traditional. Do you even need a brand new vehicle? Do you need all these vehicles, or can you use car sharing?”
Another area of keen interest: EV charging infractructure. There’s been no end of publicity about the rollout of DC fast-charging stations in places such as Norway, but rather less about the unglamorous but vital AC options.
“One of the big pieces of the puzzle, which Meridian has already identified, is AC single-phase origin-destination charging – the stuff that’s outside the shopping mall, the trade store and other places where you might stop for 30 minutes to an hour and top up. Making that accessible hugely helps when the majority of EVs on our roads have a 120 to 250km range.”
The summit heard about what retail and service providers have provided for their EV-driving customers in the UK and elsewhere. “It’s a case of the market responding. No one has been that intentional from a policy perspective, it’s just people going, ‘Here’s an opportunity to do something cool and change the experience for our customers’. And what’s interesting is how that can massively uplift the user’s experience when they’re out and about during the day.”
What of the pressing topic of incentives for consumers to buy EVs? Drive Electric has pushed the case for a feebate system – taxing high emissions vehicles to fund rebates for low-emission cars – but this and other potential incentives have yet to be considered by Cabinet. Nick says he was impressed by the Swedish ‘Bonus Malus’ feebate system (see sidebar story), which strikes him as a better fit for this country than the Norwegian approach.
“It’s a really simple measure that helps with the relatively high capital cost of purchasing an EV. It’s just one of many things we need to do to increase EV penetration in New Zealand.”
Feebate schemes tend to raise issues about equity. The Nordic Summit didn’t ignore these stickier questions. Nick came away from Oslo more convinced than ever that there is a huge role to be played by car sharing and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) more generally to lift EV penetration.
“Let’s be fair: In New Zealand you have to have an income well above the median to afford an EV. Car share makes electric mobility available to everyone,” he says, adding that the summit highlighted some of the technological innovation happening in this area. “When we think about how we do Mobility-as-a-Service there are some really smart tools available: ‘I need to get from here to here at this time, what are the options?’ Also, there are clever software technologies that make it really easy to plan your EV journey and choose the right form of electrified transport to meet your needs.”
The summit tackled other concerns raised by the EV revolution, including the ethics of using lithium-ion batteries. There is disquiet about environmental degradation caused by lithium mining and the disposal of dead batteries. Meanwhile, cobalt, a critical element that is largely sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is known to be acquired through mining operations known to use children. This is clearly unacceptable and new inroads are and must be found to eradicate these unacceptable practices.
Some progress is being made. Panasonic is developing a cobalt-free EV battery, and Tesla, which has reduced the cobalt in its batteries to less than three per cent, aims to do the same.
Nick believes lithium-ion will eventually be supplanted by new technology. Even so, he says, “We have to acknowledge that things aren’t perfect and that, like the mobile phone, there are some dirty elements here and we can’t hide from that. We need to be advocates for moving the technology on, because we’re not happy with the supply chain around lithium.”