Fleets on the path to electrification first must decide one of two options: Find outside sources for charging electric fleet vehicles or develop a charging facility on your own.
And a third option could be both, especially if a fleet starts smaller and then grows to a point it can justify in-house charging infrastructure.
Two educational sessions at the November 2023 Fleet Forward Conference delved into those different but complementary approaches to ensuring enough power supply for an electric vehicle fleet.
Running EVs On Outside Chargers
In an Nov. 8 session, How to Run EVs Without Infrastructure, panelists Josh Green, founder and CEO of Inspiration Mobility, Keith Kuran, director of e-ports at NextEra Energy; Paul Gioupis, co-founder and CEO of Zeem Solutions, and Sunil Paul, CEO and co-founder of Spring Free EV outlined multiple options and steps to outsourced EV charging.
Here are some of their collective insights and takeaways for fleet managers and operations:
For starters, charging infrastructure is the main obstacle to electrification. As of now, EVs are too expensive to scale to the grid, which could not handle the power load today. At best, the grid could handle 50% of EVs to scale.
Although electric vehicles cost more upfront, the total cost of ownership is lower if EVs are deployed consistently. They have tremendous government support, unlike internal combustion engine-based vehicles.
Under the right circumstances, electric vehicles can rapidly scale without dedicated fleet charging. In the early days of gasoline vehicles, for example, people installed gas tanks at their residences because they could not rely on fueling infrastructure. Now most people, fleets, and consumers use gas stations.
Over time, EV public infrastructure will become more reliable. For now, most fleets need a variety of charging outlets because the public infrastructure is woefully inadequate. Commercial fleet operators generally don’t think public charging is very efficient and see it as a last resort. Aside from unreliable public charging, fleets can use a combination of depot, and/or home charging.
Commercial fleets are more suited to electric vehicles because they reap a feasible cost of ownership with their predictable routes and lower operating costs. Consumers, on the other hand, worry about range because they envision longer road trips.
Fleet-based companies should consider the following factors in pursuing electrification:
- Try before you buy: Figure out charging needs and costs before investing in infrastructure. Pay for access to a charging facility, especially for a small to medium size fleet that cannot grow as fast to a scale that justifies its own chargers. Fleet operations can take a few years experimenting with flexible charging arrangements before developing chargers for their own vehicles.
- Consider bundled options of leasing fleet vehicles with paid access to contracted private charging depots.
- Look at routes and charging times for electric vehicles based on duty cycles and demand. See where charging is available and if Level 2 charging can be done overnight. In some cases, the preferred option may be to install chargers on fleet property and/or employee houses. It’s hard to generalize on charging models for individual electric fleet businesses.
- Chargers are generally underused but the primary concern among EV drivers is where and whether the charger is available when they need it. The average high-speed charger has .6 charging events per day; for Level 2 it’s .4 average per day.
- In scenarios where space for building Level 2 chargers is limited, fleet operations can work out cycling schedules to maximize charger usage and make it as efficient as possible.
- The right charging solution for each electric vehicle in a larger fleet will encompass every option. Some can charge at homes, others at a Level 2 depot overnight.
- A fleet needs long-term charging usage to justify building a site. Look for a critical mass point of demand and possible complementary daytime demand if pursuing onsite chargers.
- Many incentive dollars for charging infrastructure are becoming available next year as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. The land rush is happening now for depots, and infrastructure is coming online that at first may be underused.
- Software and financial tools can make it easy for fleets to identify duty cycles suited to shared chargers. Having certainty is the best route to more widespread EV adoption.
- A 15–45-minute charge wait time should be a pleasant experience. Attendants should be available overnight to handle electric vehicle charging. That’s important because drivers are a scarce and valued commodity for fleets.
- Offsite facilities are the best and easiest options for fleets. A charger should be plugged into a vehicle at least 35-40% of the time to make it a worthwhile investment and 50-60% of the time for a good solid investment.
Scaling Infrastructure and Finding Power
The next day at the conference, a session, Will I Have Enough Power? Defining Your Infrastructure Project’s Scope, educated fleet managers ready for infrastructure but needing to determine the power sources to sustain it.
Panelists included Ben Rogers, chief development officer for Electrada; John Critelli, director of sustainable development group sales for mobility solutions at Mitsubishi HC Capital America; Matt Betz, a fleet optimization expert for DTE Energy; and Shankar Muthukumar, general manager and leader of the design build team at Mortensen. In a round-robin conversation, the panelists offered the audience the following takeaways:
- Fleets must get ahead of finding enough power in a local area for their charging infrastructure. Some areas may lack enough power for the number of chargers planned.
- Fleets are concerned if there will be enough power designated for the area they plan to operate in. Local utilities may have to invest in bringing more power to an industrial or commercial park where an electric fleet is operating.
- It’s a painful process if you start late. Fleet operators should determine power potential and sourcing before securing the land for infrastructure. Power can be there if you start early. If not, everything adds up quickly.
- Fleet customers are not always being educated by OEMs on what they need to estimate and secure power capacity for electric vehicles.
- Fleet managers should collaborate with local utilities to evaluate options and see if they are willing to take steps they haven’t before in providing more power.
- Among questions to research: Do you have enough power close to your facility? Can you run a line to the location? Will you get it on time? What is the timetable and where are you in the project cue? Some of the best projects happen where utilities reach out to the largest fleets operations or distribution centers to lay the groundwork for a three-to-four-year project that will yield 20-40 megawatts of power. Otherwise, it can take five to six years to develop large scale power sources for charging infrastructure.
Fleet managers also must consider if they will have enough infrastructure funding in addition to the power. Three factors to consider:
- Be open to options beyond traditional lending and leasing, since electric vehicles are two to three times more expensive than internal combustion engine vehicles and purchasers must do the equivalent of “buying a gas station” to supply the EV chargers.
- Change the way you think of acquiring assets. You don’t have to do it all by yourselves anymore and can consider flexible, structured financing options such as bundling electric trucks with charging infrastructure and software into a single payment, or financing each separately. There are now a variety of structures to serve what EV fleet customers are looking for.
- Work to establish and determine residual values for electric vehicles. There are different ways to estimate and arrange them. Questions to consider: Will EV OEMs be willing to participate in setting the residual? What happens at the end of the term for electric fleet vehicles? What is the state of the aftermarket? Without much data yet, the strategy requires some thought leadership and research.
In analyzing finance options, fleet managers should include the cost of powering and charging EVs. Fleet EV customers need to figure out how to deploy capital in the most efficient way and identify site considerations for infrastructure upgrades. Other key points:
- Among factors: How will the site set-up impact the final cost of the project? If for example you have a 5–10-acre distribution center, it may require a site evaluation of land characteristics, geo-technical aspects, and overall usage. That approach requires a holistic view up front that takes money and time, which is not always intuitive for fleets.
- Fleet operations also must manage and advocate for change internally and be able to persuade and communicate with a variety of stakeholders to keep a charging infrastructure project on time and on budget. Some operations assign these tasks to a change management team to reach drivers, mechanics, executives, and stakeholders. Allocate enough time to get buy-in and consider making electric vehicles available for a loaner program for executives.
- Be aware that utilities will do revenue projections on infrastructure plans, often on the standard that two EVs equal the power demands of a new house.
- Map out the future of financial plans for EV projects and plan for those aspects in advance. The more you know and the sooner you know it, the more you can do as more electric vehicles and configurations come down the road.
- If you want to preserve the life of EV batteries, what are the types of chargers you want at your facility? What is the charging infrastructure design? Financers and designers trying to figure out how the other works. Both parties need to be able to communicate across the board.
- What percentage of projects will have battery storage or solar energy? Are mobile or portable charging options preferable? Is a self-sustaining microgrid feasible?
- What are backup options when there is no power for the infrastructure due to an outage or a storm? Natural gas reserves? Level 3 chargers that could run on propane?
- Be aware that PUCs and utilities may not be able to react fast enough to accommodate demand. So microgrids may be needed for demand, resiliency, and supply. Some microgrids can work without the help of a utility, while others need an alternative power source as backup.
- Three to four years is the expected timeline for electrification, which is faster than what utilities can respond to. It could take another 5-10 years for utilities to catch up, so microgrids and/or other energy sources may be needed.
- How does a fleet operation think about data? How can software companies intersect with OEMs and utilities to meet goals for fleets? Can telematics provide the ability to report and capture variable power usage and cost information?
- Software can help a fleet operation figure out minimum charging infrastructure needs and make a charging facility as efficient as possible. Analytics provide the information to make the infrastructure project as lean as possible.
In sum, the panelists also shared some “king of the world” desires and takeaways for solving challenges:
- See OEMs produce electric vehicles at scale to satisfy dealers waiting for inventory.
- Let an outsourced expert organization handle the infrastructure for a fleet. Fleet customers are not project development experts and should avoid a wasteful and time-consuming DIY approach.
- The transportation sector needs to catch up to the rate of change happening in the EV sector.
- Get utilities involved early and often with infrastructure projects.
- Know all key stakeholders and overcommunicate with them on projects. Collaborate with all companies involved on projects.
- As you scale up vehicles and increase class size, you need project developers to ensure the expanded work will go smoothly without delays, and still get enough electric power while staying on budget.
- Timely charging infrastructure will help boost EV sales and reduce carbon emissions at a faster rate.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet