Do you have the infrastructure needed to electrify your fleet?

Two of five prototype vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service’s Next Generation Delivery Vehicle are battery-powered. UPS is testing electric vehicle prototypes, as is FedEx. Between these three delivery companies, almost 400,000 vehicles are on the road daily.

In past vehicle rollouts, the practice has been to upgrade the whole fleet at a depot and move the best vehicles from the depot to other depots. This practice means simplified logistics, maintenance and planning. It is likely to occur with fleet electrification as well.

But what additional infrastructure needs will result from this switch? My article in the September 2018 issue of IEEE Electrification Magazine looked at the impact on the grid from electric fleets. With current use patterns during the holidays, a USPS or UPS depot could generate demand of 7 megawatts (MW), far beyond the existing utility service at the location. A fully electrified truck stop might have a peak demand of 8 to 25 MW; typical existing utility infrastructure at a truck stop might be as much as 1 or 2 MW.

This leads to a series of questions a utility needs to ask about preparing for fleet electrification:

  1. Where are the fleet locations in my service territory? What is the closest substation, and could it support the new electric load?
  2. Will the change be gradual or a “big bang” for the fleet? For the charging infrastructure?
  3. Is there a plan to pay for the utility infrastructure, or do they expect some sort of a long-term program from the utility?
  4. Is the utility going to put in local storage or generation?
  5. Does the utility have the bulk power capability to support full fleet electrification in each service area?
  6. Does the utility want to factor fleet electrification into planning models and construction standards? Will it be proactive or reactive?
  7. Does the regulatory environment support preparations for electrification of transportation (and other applications)?
  8. Is there a plan to retain distribution and substation automation specialists, who will be in high demand as fleet owners and others will be hunting for these skills to maintain their chargers and infrastructure?
  9. Does the utility want to offer charging as a service? Will the regulatory environment support it? If so, does it have the operational technology systems and contracts to support charging, including demand response measures?
  10. Is there a long-term strategy and an implementation framework for electrification? Could plans be accelerated to electrify fleets, establish financing, offer charging as a service, support rapid buildout of facilities and local integration of storage and renewables?

Fleet electrification poses complex problems. Fleet owners and sites don’t want any downtime, because they need to deliver daily. Ripping up a parking lot, closing a building or bringing in construction equipment can severely restrict a depot’s function. Most have just enough land that if everything goes right, their fleets can function.

Construction that affects fleet function must be planned, then executed in a short period of time. A good partner pre-plans and works to minimize overall disruption to the fleet operation.


Transit authorities face their own challenges on the path to electric bus fleets and may need new partners to help develop a comprehensive electrification road map.

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Doug Houseman is a principal consultant who specializes in the power industry and grid modernization at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. He has more than 40 years of experience in the energy and utilities industry and has been involved in projects spanning more than 70 countries. His wide range of skills includes business and IT architecture, process and procedure, security, and overall system operations. Doug has contributed to some of the leading guidelines and visionary reports on grid modernization, and he is retired chair of the IEEE PES Intelligent Grid and Emerging Technologies Coordinating Committee and a former member of the GridWise Architecture Council.