We are delighted to present the Q&A Session with Chris Demetriou, the London Borough of Islington’s Assistant Director of Corporate Fleet, Transport & Accessible Community Transport. Chris oversees the council’s fleet electrification strategy, transitioning over 500 vehicles to battery electric by 2030 to meet their net zero commitment. With over 20 years of public service experience, Chris is passionate about environmental issues and achieving Islington’s 2030 Net Zero target. Under his leadership, Islington leads in phasing out fossil-fueled vehicles, setting benchmarks in innovative technology like their award-winning diesel to electric refuse vehicle upcycling. Chris, a strategic leader involved in projects like Vehicle to Grid and Solar PV, envisions transforming the main fleet depot into a micro-grid. Join us as Chris shares his insights on managing large fleets, the benefits of electric vehicles, and the future of sustainable transport.

#LEVS: In your experience managing a large fleet, how can electric vehicles contribute to improved efficiency and cost savings for organisations?

#Chris Demetriou: Managing a large fleet of vehicles, whether that be traditional fossil fuelled vehicles, or their electric equivalents is always challenging particularly when a large proportion of these vehicles are heavy goods vehicles such as refuse collection vehicles (RCV), community buses and cage tippers. As we continue to drive forward with our transition from fossil fuelled vehicles to full battery electric, we have seen the many advantages first hand with improved efficiency and revenue cost savings.

Despite the higher initial purchase cost of EVs, the long-term operational and maintenance cost savings outweigh the upfront investment, resulting in overall cost savings for the council. For example, our average annual diesel cost for a refuse collection vehicle is approximately £25k whereas one of E-RCV’s cost us around £3.5k in kWh over the same 12-month period. Likewise, the average maintenance of E-RCV (A & B Services) costs us approx. £1.5k per annum whereas a diesel RCV costs us around £8k.

It’s important for fleet operators to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) of any EV they are purchasing and to do so over the vehicle’s lifetime, but fleet operators must try and move away from the traditional thinking that they can only run vehicles for a set length of time. The lifespan of EV’s will be longer than their internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalents and this should be considered in that TCO projection. We have several first-generation Nissan Leaf’s which are now 10 years old where they are still running absolutely fine where we have not had to change the high voltage batteries and we are still seeing a really good range in them.

Another cost saving bonus for us in Islington is seeing the reduction of our Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) costs come down from around £15k per month to just £3k now and very soon nothing as we replace our last non-ULEZ compliant vehicles with new electric cage tippers. I’m sure other fleet operators are in a similar situation or might be soon as we see more Clean Air Zones appear in different areas of the country.

#LEVS: From a broader perspective, how can the widespread adoption of electric vehicles contribute to a more sustainable future?

Chris Demetriou: Here in Islington, we declared a climate emergency in 2019 like many other local authorities did at the time but as we move forward through our EV transition, it seems there are still some local authorities and organisations who remain sceptical or possibly unsure on how they start their electrification journey. Here is Islington; decarbonising our fleet is a huge objective for us as are all our other 2030 Net Zero decarbonisation projects and we are determined to give our residents a greener, cleaner and healthier borough to live in.

We know that our 500+ in-house vehicle fleet causes around 3% of CO2 emissions within our borough and electrifying our fleet will reduce our carbon footprint by around 3,000 tonnes of Co2 once the fleet has been fully electrified, hopefully before 2030.

However, it is not just about electrifying the fleet, we are also actively trying to reduce the number of vehicles we have as well encourage staff to use other modes of transport such as bikes, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes which we already have on the fleet.

We are very much aware that it is our HGV fleet which emits the largest amount of emissions and that is why we are moving forward with not only electrifying what we consider the low hanging fruit vehicles such as small vans but the HGV fleet too.

However, we are not oblivious to the fact that we still need to do a lot more in trying to find solutions within the motor industry for reducing the remaining PM2 and NOX pollutants from electric vehicles. This for me is the next phase of making electric vehicles not just zero tail-pipe emission free but completely free of all pollutants.

Some of the usual media scaremongering stories we have all heard before regarding batteries and what we do with them at their end of the life continues to frustrate me, EV batteries can be recycled to the point that at least 95% of the materials within can be recovered such as the lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other metals, which can be used to manufacture new batteries or used elsewhere. This of course helps reduce the need for mining additional raw materials and reduces the overall environmental impact of battery production.

We also spend a lot of time in the industry discussing transport related air pollution and climate change but not always about the health inequality divide that fossil fuelled vehicles continue to cause in our communities. The benefits of cleaner electric vehicles will hopefully result in lower rates of admissions in our local hospital and GP surgeries for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, particularly in our densely populated areas, our residents deserve a healthier and more equal future wherever they might live.

#LEVS: Beyond environmental concerns, what operational advantages do you see electric vehicles offering compared to traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles?

Chris Demetriou: Beyond the obvious environmental considerations and advantages, EVs do offer several operational advantages compared to that of traditional fossil fuelled vehicles which include lower operating costs due to reduced fuel expenses and fewer maintenance requirements as I’ve already mentioned previously. This can lead to significant long-term savings for fleet operators and individual vehicle owners over the longer term and from my perspective I do expect EV’s to reach their end-of-life a lot further down the line then internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts.

We are already seeing here in Islington that with EVs having fewer moving parts compared to ICE vehicles, this is leading to reduced maintenance needs and a decrease in terms of replacing parts. An added benefit for us is not having to run diesel vehicles over long distances to continually clear their blocked exhaust filters.

Other related benefits for us include being able to operate refuse collections early in the morning and late at night with noise not being an issue particularly when these vehicles are idle, we certainly receive less complaints from our residents now since introducing several E-RCV’s to the fleet, however the crashing of bottles in the hopper is still relatively noisy!

In many areas across the country, there are still incentives and benefits specific to EV’s, such as preferential parking, access to restricted zones, and reduced tolls and these incentives can provide operational advantages for fleet operators in terms of logistics and cost savings.

One huge benefit which doesn’t often get spoken about is for our drivers and staff who operate these vehicles, one driver recently told me that since he began driving an electric sweeping vehicle his migraines have stopped and he sleeps a lot better at night, this is another good reason for fleet operators to be prioritising the purchase of EV’s.

#LEVS: As the EV industry continues to develop, what advancements do you find most promising for the future success of electric fleet adoption?

Chris Demetriou: I think the first point to make here is that with technology moving so quickly, it won’t be long before we see more powerful longer-range batteries weighing much less than they currently do now, which could very well be the solid-state battery solution. I would not be surprised to see solid-state batteries in passenger vehicles within the next couple of years, so exciting times ahead but at this point we don’t know what the potential cost of these batteries might initially be.

Another exciting opportunity for the industry is the adoption of wider vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. We potentially have the energy solution right under our noses offering sources of flexibility and I’m not quite certain why the industry is not currently doing more to develop and promote this technology. We are seeing more and more vehicles with Vehicle-to-Load (V2L) and V2G enabled technologies on offer as well as more bidirectional chargers across the industry, but we need the regulators and regulations to change to enable this to move much quicker.

We carried out our own small scale V2G trial a few years ago at our Town Hall with half a dozen Nissan Leaf’s and Nissan ENV200 vans, the trial was successfully in that we proved the technology worked but we needed a lot more vehicles and bidirectional charges to have a bigger overall impact on exporting energy from the vehicles to the building and therefore reducing the energy consumption of the building and associated energy cost.

We are the first local authority to have Vehicle-to-Load electric refuse collection vehicles and we have successfully powered events using these vehicles as well as taken away waste at the end of these events! It shows you that electric vehicles are not just modes of transport which get you to A and B but a whole lot more now.

A positive for the industry is that we are seeing sales of electric vehicles increase month by month and additionally we are also seeing the costs of these EV’s reducing particularly for passenger cars and vans. Over the next two years we will see EV’s being sold cheaper than their ICE equivalents which will be fantastic and at the same time we have seen a huge increase in charger availability across the UK with much more to come.

#LEVS: How do events like the London EV Show benefit the electric vehicle industry, specifically for fleet operators like yourself, in terms of staying informed about the latest technology and fostering collaboration?

Chris Demetriou: Events like the London EV Show play a crucial role in advancing the electric vehicle industry and supporting fleet operators on how best to make that transition from fossil fuelled vehicles to full battery electric with plenty of experts being present from across the industry.

These events provide an excellent platform for manufacturers, startups, and researchers to showcase the latest EV technologies. Fleet operators can also explore cutting-edge innovations in batteries, charging infrastructure, and vehicle design as well as share best practices on their own EV journeys so far.

The London EV show is also an opportunity for Fleet operators to connect with industry experts, suppliers, and other professionals and small discussions can lead to formal collaborations which do lead to partnerships, knowledge sharing, and joint projects.

This year’s London EV Show will be bigger and better than ever and will empower fleet operators by providing them with the necessary knowledge and confidence in making that transition as well as a great opportunity for networking, and exposure to the latest E-mobility advancements.