There is more to EVs than cars, and electric buses, writes Jason Walsh, Business Post

If electric vehicles (EVs) are to truly replace internal combustion engines (ICEs) then a number of things need to happen. First of all, EVs of all kinds, from cars to vans to buses, need to be bought. In order for that to happen, though, two other things are required to support it: a charging network and EV expertise.

Commercial vehicle specialist Harris Group hopes to address the expertise issue, having opened, with the ribbon cut by minister of state Hildegarde Naughton, what it describes as a state-of-the-art EV Training Academy that offers specialised, dedicated training to electric vehicle technicians.

“The purpose of the academy is to plug the knowledge gap among mechanics and repair engineers so that, if necessary, they can repair an electric bus or commercial vehicle promptly, without delay,” said Denise Harris, chief executive of Harris Group.

Harris Group’s ultimate goal is to electrify Ireland’s bus and coach network, and this kind of expertise will become vital as this starts to happen.

“At Harris Group, we promote a ‘fix it first time’ culture and this forms the basis for everything that we do. At the academy, we empower our technicians to repair vehicles swiftly, safely and crucially, on site.”

Among the features offered by the academy is a dedicated learning portal, which is available to technicians 24/7 and fully accessible online for maximum convenience. It offers bespoke training across electric systems, body and chassis technologies, diagnostics and emission control systems, so that all bases are covered.

“This academy is the first of its kind in Ireland and we are mindful to build on this progress over the coming years,” Harris said.

Given that Ireland’s charging infrastructure is known to be lagging in relation to the country’s EU peers, what can be done to scale it? Harris said that, for both public and private vehicles, incentives did need to come into play.

The ultimate goal of commercial vehicle specialist Harris Group is to electrify Ireland’s bus and coach network
It should be remembered, she said, that EV charging infrastructure was a relatively new concept, and the country must therefore continue to prioritise infrastructure and practical, on-the-ground measures.

“We firstly need to ramp up a network of public chargers, to instil confidence in consumers and businesses, and encourage a modal shift towards electric vehicles. To support this shift, we need alignment across the entire system, with a robust regulatory framework in place. Ideally, this would allow EVs to be charged at any compatible charging station, irrespective of the manufacturer or operator.”

Once charging reaches a scale, additional elements must then be considered she said, such as smart charging solutions that can optimise grid capacity, and the rollout of home and business charging to further incentivise the purchase of electric vehicles.

Electric buses are ready for prime time now, though, including when it comes to range. “At Harris Group, our innovative approach means that we have developed partnerships with leading global manufacturers, allowing us to offer vehicles which boast ranges beyond the industry average.

“As an example, the hallmark of our partnership with leading global manufacturer Higer, is the Azure bus.”

The Azure has a range of over 467 kilometres on a single charge and is equipped with a DC fast charger meaning that it can be fully charged in less than two hours, maximising efficiency.

As a further example, Harris offered its sister vehicle: the Steed, which has a range of up to 300 kilometres on a single charge.

“The Steed is powered by intelligent power saving technology, enabling the vehicle to run on the same charge for an extended period of time. Operators can thus be reassured that they will not run out of battery – this is imperative for business continuity,” she said.

Asked if any private businesses are using EVs for operations at the moment, Harris said they were.

“Yes, many private businesses are using EVs and we will continue to see a growth in this market over the coming years as companies focus on decarbonising their operations.”

Indeed, she said, the government’s Climate Action Plan 2023, published just last year, mandated that 300 electric buses be in the Public Service Obligation (PSO) fleet by 2025, increasing to 1,500 by 2030.

As a result, purchase incentives are a crucial component in supporting the transition.

“This is an ambitious target, but we have undoubtedly made positive progress to date. As an example, the Alternatively Fuelled Heavy Duty Vehicle Purchase Scheme, administered by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, has supported operators and businesses in making the transition to an electric vehicle,” she said.

Indeed, all businesses can already benefit from transitioning to EVs. “Both now and in the future, EVs are a cost-effective option for businesses. The savings incurred in the absence of fuel costs, and the overall efficiency of the vehicle, means that businesses stand to gain in the long-term. Making businesses aware of this, is a crucial component of the wider education campaign around EVs and their viability.”


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