In many industrialized countries today, a dozen people would drive a dozen gasoline (or diesel) cars to the supermarket, where energy is wasted on everything from open-shelf fridges to bright lighting. Then, they would drive the same dozen vehicles back with the groceries. Carbon emissions all around. What if instead, these households all ordered their groceries online from an energy-efficient warehouse, and a single electric van delivered their orders on one circuit route? You've got to see this TV report: Channel 4 News.
Part of the Stern Report Monday 30th October 2006: (video : 4 mins).
The delivery part already exists in Canada: for example, Grocery Gateway does it six days a week in the Greater Toronto Area. You can even specify your delivery time down to a fairly narrow window (typically, 90 minutes). It's a great service, and we've been using it a lot lately, in an effort to reduce driving to the store.
But a Grocery Gateway driver has told me that the goods come from the shelves of Longo's Supermarkets, not from more energy-efficient warehouses. They don't always have everything in stock. And they use diesel powered delivery trucks.
In the UK, "Tesco.com, Britain’s biggest internet grocery retailer, has ordered 15 vans for their home delivery network" from Modec, a new company making all-electric delivery vehicles. (See Item 5 on Modec's FAQ, which is worth reading in its entirety.)
Right now, "Modec is governed at a maximum speed of 50mph. Although the vehicle is capable of more, it is designed for urban use so the energy saved by limiting the top speed can be used to enhance the performance and range of the vehicle." (FAQ Item 4, subheading "Speed".)
In suburbs, you would have to use both streets and highways, unless your depots or stores have very good coverage. Modec are looking into Lithium phosphate batteries instead of their current Sodium Nickel Chloride ("Zebra") packs (see FAQ Item 3, subheading "What battery packs are available?"). But highway speeds don't seem to be their priority, because electric vehicles save the most energy in urban driving.
Actually, this would be yet another argument for higher-density planning.
In related news, it's easier to find produce flown in from California than local fruits and vegetables -- even when they are in season in Ontario (as documented in an excellent story in the Toronto Star). Another story from the UK shows that large grocery chains with their "hub-and spoke" warehousing systems can make it hard for local farmers to sell to local customers.
Hmm... How about electric trucks for ecological food delivery services that support local organic produce?