Electric delivery vans and dozens of charging stations

Electric delivery vans and dozens of charging stations

UM’s transition to electric mobility


To make the Netherlands more sustainable, the Dutch government wants to encourage people to transition to electric mobility. This will also affect Maastricht University. As from 1 January 2025, all delivery vans and trucks entering the city centre of Maastricht must be electric or hydrogen powered. UM car parks must also be outfitted with dozens of charging stations. It won’t be an easy task, says Rabbe Dormans, advisor environment & sustainability at UM.

First of all, there’s the Green Deal Zero Emission Urban Logistics. In 2014, the municipality of Maastricht decided to join this national project to ban petrol- and diesel-powered commercial transport vehicles from city centres. Maastricht defined its zero-emission zone last year. Heavy goods vehicles (over 3,500 kg) will be exempt from the ban for a few more years. “The ban for heavy goods vehicles has been postponed to 2030, as very few electric HGVs are currently available on the market and the costs are high”, says Dormans.

The ban will have a significant impact on the university, which has dozens of buildings in the city centre and countless goods delivered every day. “We’re currently trying to get an idea of how many delivery vans and trucks we’re talking about”, says Dormans. “It’s quite a difficult task, as many of our logistics activities are decentralised.”

Two options

In the new situation, suppliers will have two options: add electric vehicles to their fleet or deliver their goods to a logistics hub outside the city. “We currently have three hubs near Maastricht. Our removal service, UTS Berhardt, has one in Elsloo. The electric moving van they use for UM regularly travels there. We also have our own distribution centre: the warehouse at the hospital. Our internal postal service uses electric vehicles to distribute the goods delivered there.”

The logistics hubs are currently used to a limited extent. “Using them is often not yet profitable. You have to unload the goods, store them and then load them into smaller electric vehicles. But we can’t wait until the last minute, either. If the university starts now, others will follow. After all, the supplier supplying our toilet paper also has to go to the hotels in the city centre.”

And there’s an unexpected consequence: anyone who drives a van for private use will no longer be able to enter the city centre with it. It’s about how the vehicle is registered at the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (RDW), not about how it’s used. “The municipality is still working out the possibilities for exemption. Residents will likely be exempt. We hope there will also be an exemption for UM employees who drive to work”, says Dormans. “But it remains to be seen.”

Charging stations

The Zero Emission Urban Logistics project isn’t the only government regulation that will come into force in 2025. As from that year, all UM car parks with twenty or more parking spaces must have at least one EV charging station. This regulation has been in force for new buildings since 2020. “And the EU has just released a draft directive proposing one charging station per 10 parking spaces as from 2027. We’ll have our work cut out for us with car parks like the one on Universiteitssingel, with 340 parking spaces.”

UM is waiting for the EU directive to be finalised. “We don’t want to start construction twice. It’s not just about the charging stations themselves. They draw a lot of power from the grid. With cars charging everywhere, demand will peak. We’ll also need to have another transformer installed.”

Dozens of charging stations may sound like a lot, but Dormans wonders if it will be enough. “Electric car sales are growing exponentially. What do we do when we have more people wanting to charge their cars than there are charging stations? We can ask people to move their cars once charged, but that would require available parking spaces. And our car parks are sometimes full as it is.”

Besides, it’s not just cars that will need charging. To get people to drive less, the use of electric bicycles must also be facilitated. “Fortunately, e-bike charging stations require much less power.”

Environmental benefits

But are electric cars really more environmentally friendly? Critics point out that EV batteries cannot be recycled and that the sourcing of the raw materials they’re made of is neither very sustainable nor very responsible. “It’s not the intention to achieve immediate environmental benefits”, explains Dormans. “If you compare the life cycle carbon footprint of petrol-powered cars and electric-powered cars, electric-powered cars perform slightly better. But investing in this now will encourage further research and development. Take solar panels: they can’t be recycled, either. If you piled all solar panels on top of each other, you’d end up with a trash heap high enough to reach the moon. But the next generation of solar panels can be recycled. The energy transition is crucial, but it won’t happen if we keep waiting for the perfect product.”

Besides, says Dormans, the energy transition must happen anyway. “By supporting a project like Zero Emission Urban Logistics, the university is contributing to that. We’re making a statement: this is important. And it will have some immediate benefits. For example, I expect that the quality of life and air quality in the city centre will improve considerably once petrol- and diesel-powered cargo traffic has been banned.”

This is the first installment in a series of articles about sustainability at UM.

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Yuri Meesen

Tags: sustainability,electric driving,electric cars,zero emission urban logistics,EU,charging stations,climate change,environment

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