Nick Robilliard can clearly recall the lightbulb moment when he realised that electric cars were the way to go.
It was late at night and the property and procurement manager for Meridian Energy was studying some data for a completely different reason: "I looked at all the trips our pool of vehicles were doing and I thought 'we've got an opportunity now. We have the product that will allow us to electrify our vehicle fleet'."
After some simple number-crunching, he handed his findings to an analyst: "Two days later we had the model built."
Meridian is now fully signed up to the vehicle electrification programme, on both a local and international scale. It has already converted more than 50 per cent of its passenger fleet to 100 per cent electric, and is making strong inroads into converting utility vehicles too.
It is an active member of Drive Electric, the not-for-profit that aims to make EVs mainstream in New Zealand. More recently Meridian has also joined the international EV100 initiative by pledging to operate a 100 per cent electric fleet by 2030 - a deadline Robilliard believes will be easily met.
It's not just cars that are going electric. Meridian's mowers, trucks and even ferries are also in line for the switch. This includes the Manapōuri ferry which carries workers and cargo through a World Heritage Park to the country's largest hydro power station.
Any new technology can cause confusion, says Robilliard, but drivers new to EVs soon appreciate the advantages.
"Newcomers are naturally tentative. But then they notice the quietness and the quickness. More regular users say the move significantly reduces driver fatigue. They are more attentive and a little more engaged with their journey. If you're eco-conscious, you just love it. "
Even the 'petrol heads' soon learn the benefit of converting to electric, he says: "Speed, acceleration and handling are really good. People come away feeling good about their zero omissions journey – even if they're not particularly environmentally conscious in the first place."
As far as costs go, the EV fleet costs Meridian the same in capital as its previous petrol and diesel fuel fleet but, as well as being much better for the environment, it has lower running costs and higher residual values.
Nor do they begin to depreciate the minute they leave the showroom floor, says Robilliard. The self-confessed car and motorsport enthusiast of many years standing is about to trade in the fossil-fuelled family car for an EV himself. The 15-year-old Ford is making way for a Nissan Leaf. Making the decision to switch meant saying goodbye to a lifetime of old habits: "But inevitably you say 'look, this is happening, and it is ultimately better'."
His new car will be one of thousands. The number of EVs registered on New Zealand roads has officially passed 12,000 - a huge leap from the 210 registered just five years ago.
When marking the milestone, energy and resources minister Megan Woods noted that electric vehicles were clearly the future: "EVs are just one of many technological advancements that will transform our energy sector and help the country make the move towards our goal of being net zero carbon by 2050."
Robilliard is soon to attend the global EV summit in Norway, where he'll join an international panel to discuss the motivators of, and barriers to, large organisation fleet electrification. He hopes to bring back market intelligence in terms of what is possible next – an insight into the massive scale and timeline of introducing electric vehicles and electrification of other vehicles, including trucks, marine and aviation – and is looking forward to sharing, with an international audience, the New Zealand story and the key elements enabling Meridian to make the shift.
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