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In some pilot projects, such as mail deliveries, electric vehicles are already being tested for use in inner-city commercial traffic. Their low range is sufficient for these types of deliveries.
© Renault
Commercial traffic

The use of electric vehicles in urban delivery traffic

Around one third of the traffic in cities consists of trade contractors and suppliers. Until now, this so-called commercial traffic has mostly relied on diesel power. Electric vehicles, however, could provide an ecologically, technically and economically viable alternative, since the typical operations and routes used by care services, parcel couriers and contractors match the short ranges provided by electric vehicles. A research group led by the Technische Universität Berlin is now investigating how electric vehicles could be sensibly used in the urban commercial traffic.

The German federal government is aiming to have at least one million electric vehicles driving on German roads by 2020. There’s still a long way to go – by January 2013 the German Federal Motor Vehicle and Transport Authority (KBA) had only registered 7,000 electric and 65,000 hybrid vehicles. So far, this goal has mainly been aimed at passenger transport. “The fact is that when it comes to electromobility, so far there has been too great a focus on passenger transport. This therefore misses an opportunity to reduce the CO2 emissions caused by urban commercial traffic,” says Stefanie Marker in offering a different perspective for electromobility on German roads. As part of the “KomDrive” project, the head of the “Naturalistic Driving Observation for Energetic Optimisation and Accident Avoidance” chair at the Technical University Berlin is investigating the “electrification potential of commercial vehicle fleets in commercial traffic as a decentralised energy resource in urban distribution networks”.
Despite the higher investment costs, the researchers believe that delivery transport provides a promising field of application for electric vehicles. “Because the routes used by delivery transport are often repeated daily and weekly, the user profile for the vehicle design can be created more easily than with private individuals. This helps when designing vehicles in accordance with their application so as to avoid spending capital on oversized batteries,” explains Marker. In addition, delivery vehicles are less reliant on a public charging infrastructure. They usually stand for several hours a day on the company grounds and could be charged there using, for example, solar power systems. An electrically driven vehicle fleet could also positively enhance the image of the suppliers and contractors.

Optimal drive train for individual driving profiles reduces costs

To answer how electric vehicles can be integrated into commercial traffic in a technically, environmentally and economically feasible manner, the researchers are creating a drive profile database. This records which vehicles are used in which sectors and describes the typical driving and usage profile of courier services and contractor businesses. The task of the team under project coordinator Stefanie Marker is to simulate the optimal drive train for each individual driving profile. Above all, the daily distance travelled and the manner of driving determine whether a range extender, hybrid drive, a purely electric drive or a conventional combustion engine are most suitable. “If the usage profile reveals that the vehicles only travel short distances during the day then it would be simply uneconomical to furnish the vehicle fleet with, for example, electric vehicles whose batteries enable long ranges. This is because the larger the batteries and the less they are used, the more expensive they are,” explains Marker.

The research team is also examining how vehicle fleets can be optimally composed for specific sectors. “A vehicle fleet that is completely equipped with electric vehicles does not automatically need to achieve the optimum in technical and ecological terms, and certainly not in economic terms. Although we’re aiming to electrify as much as possible in the project – after all we want to minimise the local emissions – we’re not prepared to do this at any price since it still has to be economically worthwhile for the companies,” says Marker.

In order to utilise the synergies provided by different vehicles and drive concepts in any specific fleet, the researchers are considering the following factors:

  • Variability of the routes: Are the same journeys repeatedly taken, as is the case with package delivery companies, or are they arbitrary, as is the case with cabs?
  • Charging possibilities: Is it possible to charge the battery during periods when the vehicle is at a standstill?
  • Vehicle allocation to specific drivers: Does the driver need to use the very same vehicle every day, or can the vehicle be swapped as required?
  • Vehicle application: Is it only possible to swap the vehicles between drivers if the vehicles can be used for the respective application?
  • Activity pattern: During which periods are the vehicles used? When is it possible to charge a vehicle?
  • Daily driving performance and individual routes: Which journeys have to be taken each day? How are these divided into individual routes between which it might be possible to charge the vehicles?
  • Usage profile: Which speeds are attained during the journeys? How often are the vehicles used for urban, regional or motorway journeys?

Based on these criteria and the database, the researchers are deriving the optimal fleet composition for various businesses. They are also estimating the effects of a predominantly electrified urban commercial traffic on the urban environment, and are transferring the possible effects to the overall commercial traffic in Germany. In addition, they are also determining the synergies with other sectors such as the electricity industry.
The KomDrive project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.



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