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Why data is best placed to fuel the decarbonization of transport

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt Samsara August 1, 2023
The adoption of electric vehicles is speeding up - but it's not so easy for the transport and logistics industry. Philip van der Wilt examines Samsara's research to see why data is key to decarbonizing transport.

electric car at charging station. EV Car decarbonization transport concept © ideaDesign -
(© ideaDesign -

Decarbonizing transport is one of the central planks of the global effort to reduce carbon emissions. While the policy applies to all forms of transport – including aviation, shipping and rail — for many, it’s shorthand for scrapping petrol and diesel vehicles (Internal Combustion Engine) and replacing them with cars, lorries and vans powered by electricity (Electric Vehicles) or other green energy sources.

Much of this focus has pivoted on the uptake of — and transition to — EVs. And according to Samsara’s recent State of Connected Operations report, there is evidence to suggest the policy is working and that the drive to decarbonization is reshaping transport.

The report found that the uptake of electric and hybrid vehicles is on the rise with little sign of slowing down.

Almost nine in ten (87%) of the 1,500 operations leaders from the US, Mexico, UK and Europe who took part in the survey said that their fleet is already at least 20% electric or hybrid. While six in ten (58%) predict that their fleet will be at least 50% electric or hybrid by 2025. Half (50%) of organizations plan to purchase or lease EVs in 2023 to reduce emissions.

And while France currently leads the way in the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles, the US, UK, and Ireland are well on course to accelerate the electrification of their fleets over the next two years.

The adoption of electric or hybrid vehicles is accelerating

But what’s also clear is that the decarbonization of transport is not simply a case of replacing ICE vehicles with EVs or hybrids.

In the UK, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) recently summed up perfectly the issues facing all fleet leaders managing the switch to electric:

For operators, it’s not as simple as going out and buying an electric truck – the cost is three times as great and there are no dedicated charge points for electric HGVs on the public road network.

The trade group said in a statement that the electricity network is not yet geared to supply the electric energy demanded by HGVs and coaches. It went on:

It’s estimated 2,450 HGV charging points would be needed by 2025 and 8,200 are required at 3,000 different locations by 2030 to meet our net zero targets.

Rapid re-charging from empty to full takes a minimum of two hours. Diesel takes five minutes. The ideal recharging time is within the 45-minute mandatory driver rest period – currently, no electric HGV or coach can cater for this.

Against these headwinds, the only way to navigate a path around these issues is to use data to plan routes, link charge times with EV charger availability, and ensure this all coincides with mandatory driver rest periods.

In other words, the decarbonization of commercial vehicles can only be done in conjunction with a data platform that is able to use smart, connected telematics to track vehicles, ensure they have sufficient battery to complete a round-trip, and schedule charging so that it does not impede operations.

The role data plays in decarbonizing transport

But it can be done. One of the stand-out EV trailblazers is the City of Orlando in the US, which provides services for more than 315,000 residents in Florida. As part of its plans to become a Future Ready City, it’s committed to using 100% alternatively-fueled vehicles by 2030.

By installing a connected data platform across most of its 2,800-vehicle fleet, transport managers can see the status of their fleet on a single pane of glass. It provides city planners with total routing data to identify where to place charging stations, to ensure that EVs have the power and range they need to conduct their daily services.

Today, 91% of Orlando’s fleet is powered using alternative fuels and the city is well on its way to transforming into a “green city”.

While Orlando is a shining example of a successful transition to EVs, issues such as the availability of fast-charging stations (50%), battery range (48%), and overall EV availability (48%) continue to act as a brake on decarbonization plans.

Data platforms are essential to decarbonizing transport

And if fleets can get it right, there are other spin-offs too leading to the creation of new — and more profitable — operating models.

According to Samsara’s report, 62% of those surveyed said they plan to pursue EV charging station monetization through pay-per-use or subscription charging. While almost six in ten (58%) said they will look to monetize their EV investment by selling energy back to the grid.

Of course, for this to happen requires a fleet management platform capable of handling the buying and selling of electricity at the right price and time to maximize income. And that platform relies on data.

In other words, decarbonizing transport goes hand-in-hand with data and technology platforms. Because decarbonizing transport isn’t as simply replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with EVs.

It’s a point Samsara made in a written submission to the House of Commons Transport Committee earlier this year as part of its enquiry into the future of UK transport policy.

Data fuels decarbonization

Instead of focusing on a particular technology, Samara argued that whatever approach is taken has to be done in conjunction with a data-led approach. In written evidence, it said:

The future of UK transport policy must revolve around connected vehicles, connected road infrastructure and the use of real-time data if we ever hope to deliver a safer, cost-effective and more efficient transport network.

Data is pivotal to effectively managing traffic flow, safer roads, and ensuring the successful transition to EVs. Without connected technology, the transition to EVs and the role that transport plays in the pursuit of Net Zero will have to rely on luck rather than informed data.

And that simply cannot be allowed to happen. That's why the future of transport — and the decarbonization of transport — isn’t EVs. Or hydrogen. Or synthetic electro fuels (e-fuels). It’s data.

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