Electric vehicle charging still has a long way to go for overall reliability, but fleets at least can carve out gradual, phased in solutions that put them on a faster path to eventual electrification.
A panel at the Fleet Forward Conference on Nov. 10 in Santa Clara, California, laid out some practical approaches for fleets starting with a handful of vehicles as well as those ready to buy EVs in bulk.
The experts for the “Formulating Your Charging Strategy for Light-Duty Fleets” panel included Kristin Slanina, chief innovation officer of ParkMyFleet and director of Charge Across America; Simon Lonsdale, head of sales and strategy for bp pulse fleet; and Jason Kazmar, director of EV strategy & sustainability for Element Fleet Management.
Slanina kicked off the discussion with a recap of last year’s Charge Across America race that wrapped up on Nov. 9, 2021, where various teams raced coast to coast over 10 days relying only on their ability to plan charging times and long-distance travels amid hotel stays, pit stops, and unforeseen mechanical delays.
The race stress-tested a wide sampling of America’s available EV infrastructure, which delivered valuable insights on the challenges to mass adoption of EVs.
“There was one team that had to go to 10 different chargers in one day and there were a lot of chargers not functioning appropriately or did not have the right power ratings,” Slanina said. The non-Tesla charging systems vary in equipment quality, software and charging times, with Tesla systems so far proving to be the only reliable and consistent infrastructure.
“It really makes it clear to me that our biggest opportunity to accelerate decarbonization is to focus on fleets that can be centrally managed, and located,” Slanina said.
Fleets will need to create an “energy ecosystem” not completely dependent on the grid and public charging facilities, she said.
The panelists delved into the following primary points about developing and accessing fleet-based EV charging systems. Here is a collective summary of their suggestions and advice:
First Steps to Electrification
- The first step is to choose a site for housing and charging an electric fleet, based on how many and the type of electric vehicles. Fleet managers should then evaluate which existing ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and their accompanying duty cycles are most eligible to be replaced with electric ones. Some key questions: What are the incoming power sources and feeds? What are the specific power needs of those vehicles? How will the vehicles be deployed? How many shifts or duty cycles — multiple or single? Will there be overnight charging? What are options for energy management and efficiency practices? What will be the overall maximum power supply capacity of the EV fleet site?
- Fleets can ramp up faster for electrification than retail and public customers. For light duty fleets, the period can take as little as two weeks in figuring out immediate short-term energy access, determine how the operation will charge, learn how fast vehicles will charge at different temperature levels, and iron out connectivity bugs and challenges.
Phasing In Electric Vehicles
- Power supply and access can be phased in as fleets add vehicles and site capacity. First, look at what can be done with an existing power supply. Software can help plan and defer charging at limited plug-ins depending on vehicle needs. If you can understand when EVs are coming and going, often with a telematics tool, then you can start to level out the charging demand based on existing power while you wait to implement the next phase of power capacity.
- Even if a fleet starts out with only two or three electric vehicles, it can begin the transition to more infrastructure and vehicles and get a fleet operation acclimated to the nuances and specifics of operating EVs versus ICE vehicles.
Choosing EV Chargers
- Fleets can draw on three charging options: Onsite/depot, public access/enroute, and home-based. All need to be always reliable for a light duty fleet.
- Fleet vehicles with duty cycles averaging 80 miles per day will only need Level 2 chargers. Fleet operations should only install Level 3 fast chargers if specific EVs need them to accommodate daily mileage.
- Fleet managers should look at dwell times in deciding on how many fast chargers to install. Charging arrangements are not one size fits all. Class one through eight vehicles and trucks will span many different use cases and charging requirements.
- Charging models are available that offer a central depot or facility accessible to multiple EV tenants and clients. Such infrastructure offers economies of scale that can minimize start up and power costs for an electrifying fleet while maximizing efficiency.
Working With Utilities on Infrastructure
- The U.S. has more than 3,000 utilities, including municipal, city, regional and statewide ones. While the larger utilities tend to offer established electrification programs for fleets, most of those that don’t are willing to find ways to connect workable power sources. Fleets should ask about a utility’s plans to install new infrastructure, such as substations, cables, and power lines, and then offer to help guide the utility if possible.
- Fleet operations and companies in a local area or region can collaborate with utilities on their projected electrification plans and needs, thereby steering how a utility will add and position power resources. By providing a more comprehensive picture of their needs, fleets can motivate the utilities to act in everyone’s best long-term interests. It’s a long conversation that can eventually lead to beneficial results. The overriding question is how do you share knowledge as fleet customers and providers to give utilities more accurate visibility into what's coming with electrification? In turn, more informed decisions from utilities can help fleet operations choose where to buy real estate for charging facilities. Larger fleets can speak in a unified voice with utilities on when and where to put resources that serve future aggregate EV load demand.
Sourcing Power and Finding Real Estate
- Consider bi-directional or vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging options that can form a micro-grid for peer-to-peer energy sharing. Renewable sources and battery storage can complement V2G arrangements. Such partial self-sufficiency enables a fleet operation to phase in electrification while waiting for a utility power grid to gradually increase megawatt output over several years. New megawatt chargers will be available in 2024 that bring more capacity.
- Building a new charging facility or infrastructure will likely take time and require phases amid supply chain pressures and construction challenges. It will take longer than expected. The best approach is to expand the facility and number of charging outlets as local utility capacity and power transmission increases. A transition based on a roadmap phases that can accommodate varying energy demands drawing on a mix of utility power and a micro-grid offers fleets the most flexibility for growth.
- A micro-grid with renewable energy sources and V2G capacity is a long-term commitment and likely will take 15-20 years for it to save enough energy and money to pay for itself. Solar energy supplying parked EVs will provide about 20-25% of an EV’s charging requirement.
- In addition to solar canopies, sustainable energy options include hydrogen, small enclosed nuclear generators using contained ceramic fuels, energy purchases from wind farms, and large battery storage. These sources have varying energy density and involve varying amounts of acreage.
- Depending on use cases, fleets should see where they get the most for the money: Own versus lease electric vehicles and renting access at a charging facility versus installing self-owned and operated infrastructure. Fleets that plan to set up their own charging stations should “future proof” the site by projecting how many EVs will eventually use it and build accordingly. Of course, fleets can find a combination of all these options and phase them in and out as more EVs join the fleet. Aligning vehicles and chargers can be a complex puzzle to solve.
Determining the Right Standards
- The EV industry will need to figure out and choose a common charger connector to encourage more adoption and widen access to charging options. Since the EV industry is still moving through its early stage, chargers and connectors will vary. Once charging equipment can be accessed at scale, the industry will move into the next phase of growth.
Smartening Up with Telematics Tools
- The more integrated telematics on EVs can provide far more intelligent data than for ICE vehicles by calculating and factoring in charge times, duty cycles and deployment routes, delivery schedules, driver behavior, utility usage capacity and electricity rates, weather influences, component performance, and energy consumption. Smart EVs will continuously generate data that can be applied in aggregate across the electric fleet for more efficient usage. Such a thorough trove of information can help a fleet better manage its overall energy plan while optimizing routes and teaching drivers to improve their skills.