The steady deployment of electric vehicles — along with the increased availability of many EV types — has municipalities welcoming them into their fleets; however, before taking the plunge, thorough research and groundwork can save a lot of headaches down the line and prevent a failed pilot program. Joseph Cannon, director of EV solutions at AeroVironment; Tom Brotherton, CALSTART regional director; and David Peterson, director of fleet solutions at ChargePoint, addressed the considerations fleet managers need to make prior to EVs joining the fold in their NAFA Institute & Expo presentation, “All Charged Up: Planning Your EV Infrastructure” in Anaheim, Calif.
“When you are thinking about a (EV) fleet solution, you really need to think about how that vehicle is going to be used holistically,” Peterson said during the presentation. “For example, if you have a return-to-base fleet, then you will want to focus on the depot solution. Mixed use — if you are going to install infrastructure that’s going to be used by all types of users, then you are going to want that construction to have certain types of features so that you can manage that access. If it’s a take-home vehicle, then you are going to want to think about how you track fuel and how you reimburse fuel … especially if they are charging at home.”
On-route charging will, of course, be an important consideration, requiring attention in regards to what types of charging are needed. In most cases, fleets will want plenty of fast charging solutions available. DC Fast Charge, a Level 3 charger, provides the quickest recharge, with 30 minutes often providing a good boost to the vehicle’s range. Level 2 chargers, meanwhile, are the most common and take about four hours to fully charge a 30 kWh battery car.
Peterson noted most fleet managers are already skilled at managing the life cycle of vehicles and all other aspects of the operations; however, with EV infrastructure, managers will need to wade into a whole new level of management.
“You are dealing with a whole other set of stakeholders, many of them on the facility side,” he said, noting fleet managers need to ask themselves: “Who is managing that parking lot? Who manages the utility relationship and actually pays the electrical bill? So, these are a new set of stakeholders, and in our experience at ChargePoint, this is really required and a lot of fleet managers get out of their comfort zone as now you are working across departmentally. You may be involving finance, other departments — certainly anyone managing capital investments that year at your company, or government or agency.
“It’s easier to work with them at the outset of a project rather than waiting to the last minute, thinking now I need infrastructure for these vehicles that are going to be arriving in six months, three months, whatever it may be.”
In addition to getting the ball moving on infrastructure, fleet managers need to closely examine their fleet and determine which segment of it is right for electrification; this would include completing a suitability analysis to ensure electric vehicles will be able to perform the duties demanded of them.Workflow is an important factor as fleet managers don’t want to set up vehicles to fail. How much electrical capacity is available is also a must, and managers should also begin to think of when capacity upgrades might be needed. And as any governmental employee knows, the economics have to make sense.
Networked vs non-networked
Once the suitability analysis is completed, focus shifts to what types of charging stations make sense for the situation in addition to what other services — whether connected services or support services — will be needed.
“There are different power levels of chargers — there are also levels of data and control capabilities of those chargers,” Cannon said, noting he will often discuss the difference between networked and non-networked stations with his clients.
With a networked, or connected, station, fleet managers will be able to see the live status of the station as they are connected to a network. Thanks to being connected, fleet managers can take advantage of advanced features and get updates remotely. Managers can also use built-in reporting and analytics on EV charging usage, energy costs and environmental savings. Non-networked stations, meanwhile, don’t have as much functionality built in; however, the trade off is it doesn’t have subscription fees.
“One of the things you are going to be doing is assess what level of capability is appropriate for you,” Cannon said, noting managers will want to consider what level of cloud service fits their needs, too. “A lot of times the trade off is going to be that you are looking at potential installation savings with the utilization of a load management software application.” Cannon added for smaller EV rollouts, a non-network station is a prudent option.
Cannon noted, “You have to look at things like having a cellular access or network access for this station. So, there are tradeoffs that you want to make around that. Then you are looking at your operating cost savings. You can reduce your demand charges with load management, your cost of electricity by delaying (the charge) — although a lot of vehicles have that capability. You want to wave those potential savings against the cost of the network.”
He added, “Also you have to look at if you are going to be revenue collecting or if you have to restrict access — so looking at your individual lots. Is this an area that can be accessed by people who are not fleet drivers? In which case there (are) controls that you may be wanting to put in there or the opportunity to collect revenue if you’re going to be using these as dual-use stations.”
With a networked solution be aware of any restrictions. Can you switch network providers after the initial period wraps up or are you locked into a contract? Additionally, check on whether or not you are stuck with particular hardware solutions if you go with a certain provider.
“You want to make sure you have that flexibility,” Cannon said, “especially in the early stages of the industry. Now, there is a lot of change and lot of new things coming out, so you want to make sure you have that flexibility for down the road.”
Managing what you have
Once infrastructure is in, it is important to use it efficiently by managing how vehicles are charged. Peterson said, “Think of this scenario where all your vehicles are coming back at 6 p.m., plugging in and they are all starting to charge at the same time. What I mean is they are getting a big peak in terms of your electricity usage … It’s most likely going to drive your electric utility bill way high.”
Spreading charging out over 10 hours can help prevent peaks, and in some localities, municipal fleets can take advantage of lower electricity costs during nonpeak hours. Peterson explained depending on location, energy rates can be flat or vary by time of day — meaning cheaper electricity during off-peak periods, more expensive electricity during peak periods.
Demand charges factor into that with, Peterson saying, “The reason these exist in most utilities is they want to manage how much capacity they have to provide you. And they are looking for efficiency on their end … and so they charge you for capacity, and capacity is usually measured in kilowatts. If you use a really large amount of kilowatts in a monthly period that’s measured differently by different utilities. But within a billing period, your maximum usage of kilowatts is typically what you are billed for. So you want to bring that down as much as possible.” Since not all utilities are the same, fleet managers will want to investigate further.
When it comes to service upgrades, Peterson said, “You are going to want to minimize the transformer upgrades and the general distribution upgrades for your electrical. New service can be costly, so we want to minimize that as much as we can. But also, you want to plan for it.”
Fleet managers need to forecast future electrical demands, especially when putting together those five-year plans. “Why? Because when you go in to make improvements or sign up for a new service with your utility, you’re usually going to want to make that one-time investment because going back and upgrading every single year is costly and inefficient.”
Adaptive load management can also help fleet managers prioritize certain vehicles via software, allowing them to prioritize certain stations over others.
Can be a long process
It should be noted that it can be a long process between deciding to go electric and actually building EV infrastructure. Peterson said, “Permitting depends on the jurisdiction; it can go a couple of days to months depending on the size of the project.”
Other time factors include site design and engineering, which can take another month or more. Then there is the need to line up the installation/construction. Peterson noted, “So, the whole thing can take six to 12 months.”
He added, “I think the No. 1 thing we run into is: Great, I’ve got my 10 (Chevy) Volts and 20 Volts coming … and they’re coming in two months — six months. And now they’re thinking about the infrastructure. And they probably should have been thinking about it (beforehand).”
At the end of the session, each speaker provided one piece of advice.
“I’m going to focus on truck and bus, where I’ve done the majority of my work. I’m going to say: Really look into incentives, especially if you are here in California. If you are thinking about deploying trucks or buses, it can be a lot cheaper than you think it is going to be,” Brotherton said.
Peterson said, “One, identify the stakeholders early. Get out of the fleet manager world and start to think about who are you going to need to engage on this project and start having those conversations. No. 2, don’t think about charging to the maximum charging capabilities of that vehicle. Think about charging to the operational needs of that vehicle.”
Finally, Cannon said, “The piece of advice I would say is enlist people like David and myself. Reach out to a number of EV providers early in the process because we can help you out through the process. We know about the expenses, we’ve gone through asking the questions of different fleet operators and we can help you with those bits of information. And the more people you talk to in our world, you’ll get different viewpoints, and you can kind of find the best path for you through those different bits of feedback. For the most part, it’s capitalizing on the free information.”