Electric Currents

How Online Shopping Is Propelling a Shift to Electric Vehicles

May 09, 2016

Parcel delivery and postal services in Europe are starting to replace their fossil-fueled vans and trucks with electric models to not only save money but also dramatically cut urban air pollution, which is being accelerated by the proliferation of e-commerce and online shopping.

Yesterday, after traveling to five separate stores, including Walmat, Home Depot, Lowes and two Menards and coming up empty-handed, I sat at my computer and ordered a white, 60 inch PVC roll-up shade for my parent's sun porch to keep out the late afternoon sun. And in doing so, I joined millions of others who daily now shop online and unconsciously contribute to the growing problem of urban air pollution from the diesel trucks and vans that deliver those goods to our doorsteps.

Bloomberg Technology has just published an article about how the city of London, which just elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, is starting to deal with the problem, spurred by the growth of licensed light goods vans in the UK, from less than 2,000 in 1994 to more than 3,400 in 2014. In an article entitled, "As Pollution From Online Shopping Grows, London Funds a Solution," the solution is the funding of smaller, more efficient, electric delivery vehicles from electric cargo bikes to small, low-speed electric trucks like that pictured below.

According to the Bloomberg article, "London expects a 20 percent increase in van traffic within the next 15 years traceable solely to things bought from the Web." The answer, at least for the moment until someone figures out how to safely deploy pilotless delivery drones and robot delivery 'boys', is a company called Gnewt Cargo Ltd. At the moment, it's estimated that 20,000 packages are delivered daily in London. During his election campaign, Khan called the city's air pollution its most pressing problem, one which the Royal College of Physicians says claims 40,000 lives prematurely each year.

One of the technologies being explored is the use of smaller, lower volume delivery vehicles. Instead of using larger, high capacity vans, the thought is to employ a more 'swarm-like' approach with many smaller, shorter range and lower-cost vehicles like the Aixam Mega depicted above operating out of centralized depots. It turns out most of the time out 60 percent of the vans now plying London streets are only 25 percent full, taking up valuable street space all the while pumping out diesel particulates and toxins By switching to small Gnewt Cargo electric vans and even electric-assist cargo bikes, Westminster University reports that "Hermes Parcelnet cut the number of miles it traveled in a year by 80 percent, achieved a 71 percent reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions per parcel and a 67 percent drop in carbon dioxide pollution..."

Which is terrific for the denizens of London; and as for that white 60-inch roll-up shade for my parent's sun porch, it's being delivered to a locate K-mart where I'll pick it up, unfortunately not in an electric van... at least, not yet.

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