The association of Danish electric car owners (FDEL) is a bunch of hard-working men and women that try to promote electric mobility in a country that produces an insane amount of wind power while using almost none of it for mobility.
So, whenever a story stands outs about someone going that extra mile to do something about that, I notice. Chairman of FDEL Anna Hilden had a chance to talk to one such person. Below is my translation of the interview, which serves an example of the challenges the transition to full electric mobility presents from a city administration’s perspective.
The EV hero of Copenhagen
David Marc Gurewitsch is one of the people trying to realize the City of Copenhagen’s climate and environmental ambitions in the area of the municipality’s own vehicles and machinery. And he and the municipality are close to reaching their goal. Up to 90% of the municipality’s 270 passenger cars are running on electricity today.
David, tell me about yourself and the work you do for the City of Copenhagen.
I am in the Technical and Environmental Administration, which has an overview of the municipality’s fleet of 2100 vehicles and machines. We are also responsible for procurement and supply in this area.
My work is mainly in business development. I focus very much on alternative drive lines — electricity, fuel cells, and alternative fuels. But I’m also working on how we can optimize our fleet and thus reduce the carbon footprint of the municipality. In addition, I implement initiatives to ensure the conversion of the entire fleet by 2025. Before I started this work in Copenhagen, I worked with business development in Better Place, where my focus was the technical development of charging solutions and services. When Better Place closed in 2013, I came to the City of Copenhagen where I have been ever since.
And what is the political background for the work you are doing?
The Copenhagen City Council adopted a climate plan in 2009, which states that our own fleet of cars and machines must be converted to alternative propulsion vehicles by 2025.
We also had a sub-target, which stated that 85% of our cars should be electricity or hydrogen powered by 2015. We reached that goal in 2017, and I think we are at 87% now. So we are now ahead of schedule. We continue to buy electric cars, even if the target has already been reached. Over several years, through a collaboration with the Copenhagen district and the Danish Energy Agency, we had a joint purchasing agreement. Thus, we helped up to 22 other municipalities so that the smaller municipalities could easily and cheaply fulfill their public procurement duties. Over 500 electric cars have been purchased for ourselves and other municipalities for the last 4 years, and buying electric cars is now the norm.
What cars do you buy?
In our home care units we use a mix of Leaf, Zoe and e-Up!. What model we buy is mostly dependent on what can be obtained at the time. Our 1st generation Leafs are now being replaced with other models.
How far are your vehicles typically driving?
Many of them do not drive very far — a maximum of 10 to 15,000 km per year. A few of them, like in administration, drive longer — up to 25 to 30,000 km a year.
What do the users say?
They are mostly positive! The first electric cars we bought had some issues — they were converted gasoline cars. They were not very successful. But our cars in the current fleet run impeccably and the users are happy with them.
What about total cost of service — for instance, how long should one of your home care unit cars run, before it’s paid for in comparison to a diesel car?
We get some good prices when we buy the cars. But because many of the cars do not drive very far each year, it will typically be 3 to 4 years before a municipal electric car is paid for.
So that means for other municipalities where cars run further, typically because of distances, it will take less time before they are paid for compared to diesel cars?
Are you also testing new electric cars?
Yes, we are testing new electric cars that come to market and we assess whether they fit our needs. We have had some challenges with range to get the last 10% of our driving needs covered by electric cars. But that seems to be solved soon with new models coming to market from KIA and others.
So you are almost 100% electric in regard to cars. What else is needed?
We need to work on how charging the cars can be done more intelligently. We have a V2G [Vehicle-To-Grid] installation, but we must focus more on balancing, charging plans, etc. However, it’s not our first priority. Right now we are working on converting work vehicles and machinery — construction machinery, vans, lorries, garbage trucks, and the like. We have initiated a strategic cooperation with the municipality of Oslo and the municipality of Stockholm regarding the purchase of environmentally friendly machines. We talk to the manufacturers and the major importers and tell them what we, as Nordic municipalities, need from their products. We work together to try to influence the development.
When do see your first purchase happening as an effect of this cooperation?
We hope that will happen sometime in 2019.
So, do you expect to reach the goal of complete fleet conversion by 2025?
The municipality has a challenge with budgetary resources. Therefore, we closely follow the market to see when prices reach a level where it is attractive for us to buy. Apart from the car fleet, which is almost done, it is still too expensive to switch to alternative propulsion. The machines and the heavy-duty vehicles today cost at least twice as much compared to diesel. But prices follow the same downward trend as for cars, so prices will drop in due time.
From 2020 to 2021 we expect to get some vans and the like. However, it’s a little disappointing to see how little the manufacturers are pushing electric vans — they are still too expensive and range is inadequate. But there will probably be more choices in the early 2020s.
The municipality of Copenhagen investigates, outside our department, how to get electrified garbage trucks. In this case the extra cost of electrifying the vehicle is not that critical due to it’s smaller proportion compared to the rest of the systems of the vehicle.
Similarly, the city buses are converted to electric buses over the next decade. It is an area of great political focus.
We hope that battery cell prices will go down even further when more production in Europe is established. In 2019 there will be new, strict emission requirements for diesel engines for Stage V machines [The next stage of EU emission standards comes into force in 2019 and 2020 for non-road diesel engines across the power spectrum. Machines for construction, agriculture, materials handling, industrial use and generators will all be in scope of these new standards]. We expect that it will benefit the power lines because diesel engines with their exhaust-treatment systems become much more expensive. We are also looking for some EU funds for the electrification of vans and more. And yes, we expect to reach our goal, but it’s a tough fight.
If you were to give some advice to other municipalities working on the electrification of their fleet, what would it be?
It requires an overview of the fleet and which electric cars are on the market. And that requires support at the political level and support on budgets. Due to taxes, it is expensive to be green in Denmark — you encounter many economic and regulatory restraints, and you are also in a situation where decisions have to be made that not many others have had experience with yet.