Electric vehicles (EVs) will play a major role in the future of transportation. The technology is both nascent and historical. In the late 19th century, William Morrison, an eccentric chemist living in Des Moines, Iowa, invented the first four-wheeled electric vehicle in the United States. During the past century, research and development of electrical vehicles has gradually percolated in the background of the automotive industry. In fact, harnessing the technology on a mass production scale is a rather new phenomenon, but the lasting impact could be monumental.
To reduce carbon emissions, private companies, last-mile delivery providers, utilities and government agencies are taking steps to electrify their fleets. These efforts have environmental benefits, but if operators and owners aren’t prepared, the introduction of electric vehicles into a fleet can result in an operational quagmire.
Owners and operators transitioning their fleet from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles will need to identify suitable options to charge these vehicles. They'll need to learn and understand different charging technologies, the electrical infrastructure to support this technology, and how to effectively manage charging costs.
Suitable Options to Own and Operate EV Charging Infrastructure
Owners and operators of EV fleets will have to decide on the optimal solution(s) to charge their vehicles. Unlike ICE vehicles, EVs must park and then charge over a relatively longer period. This may require a charging station or port at each parking spot, or a lot of power to the site for faster charging. Fleet owners and operators have the following options:
- Install, own, operate and maintain EV charging infrastructure (EVCI) at their depots.
- Install, own and operate EVCI at depots while a third-party provider maintains the chargers.
- Use a third-party provider who owns, operates and maintains EVCI and pay fees per kilowatt-hour (kWh), per mile, per vehicle or some other metric. The EVCI can be shared or dedicated at the fleet owner’s real estate or third-party provider’s real estate.
- Use public charging network — if possible.
There is no one-size-fits-all option. The optimal solution to charge an EV fleet depends on multiple factors, such as business operations, type of EVs, fleet size, duty cycles, dwell times, depot size and power availability. Fleet owners and operators will need to decide which EVCI option is preferable to optimize costs and provide on-time service.
EV Charging Infrastructure Design Considerations
When installing EVCI, there are design considerations that influence the ideal placement and type of charging infrastructure. Fleet owners should consider these factors to improve EVCI installation:
- Size and location of the site.
- Layout of the site, including available space for new electrical equipment and chargers.
- Vehicle parking locations.
- Vehicle operations on-site.
- The number and type of vehicles reporting to a site.
- The location and availability of power infrastructure on-site, including power capacity.
Owners of large fleets need to decide which EV will suitably address the needs of their clients, products and overall business operations. The type of vehicle — purchased or leased — will impact the necessary charging infrastructure. At a high level, there are four types of chargers with unique hardware and infrastructure:
- Level 1 alternating current (AC) charging infrastructure: Fleet operators familiar with EV charging may be surprised to see Level 1 charging on this list, because it is the least efficient charging option. Level 1 charging is suitable when the vehicle is parked and only using auxiliary systems. Level 1 equipment will charge a vehicle using a standard residential 120-volt AC outlet. The Department of Transportation estimates that battery EVs will require between 40 and 50 hours to charge using Level 1 equipment, but plug-in hybrid EVs can charge in five to six hours. Level 1 chargers require a J1772 plug.
- Level 2 AC charging infrastructure: Level 2 charging is suitable for passenger, light-duty and in some cases medium-duty vehicles. When using Level 2 charging equipment, vehicle operators will need to charge parked vehicles overnight or during the day when the vehicle is parked for more than four hours. This charging equipment can be mounted on a wall or pedestal. Level 2 chargers also use a J1772 plug.
- Level 3 direct current (DC) charging infrastructure: Level 3 charging is suitable for passenger or light-duty vehicles that are parked for a duration of one hour or less. It also works well for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles with a longer dwell time. Level 3 chargers use a CCS1 plug and in some cases a CHAdeMO plug. Tesla uses its own proprietary Level 3 charger.
- High-power charging infrastructure: High-power chargers typically have an output of 150 kilowatt-hours DC or higher. Currently, the megawatt charging standard (MCS) is in development. High-power chargers are suitable for medium- or heavy-duty vehicles. In some cases, 350-kilowatt chargers are suitable for light-duty EV charging. High-power charging can use a CCS1 plug, J3105 interface for overhead charging or MCS plug for megawatt charging.
To support the optimal charging infrastructure, owners and operators of EV fleets should investigate the electrical capacity for the depot facility. If there is insufficient capacity to support the electrical load for EV charging, a new service drop must be installed to support the EVCI.
Site Considerations to Improve Vehicle Operator Experience
While fleet owners need to consider numerous site, design and infrastructure characteristics to support the technical aspects of EV adoption, they also need to consider site aspects that impact vehicle operators. Providing proper labels for the charging locations is essential for vehicle operators to quickly identify the correct charging spot for a designated vehicle. Establishing a uniform parking configuration is another step to maintain a charged fleet. Good lighting throughout the charging facility is essential when numerous vehicles are charging overnight. This is not only necessary for operations, but also for safety of vehicles and personnel. Don’t forget to place the charger at a height accessible to all vehicle operators and develop a system so charging cables are properly stored and maintained. It is also important to consider ADA specifications for charging sites.
Incorporate Technologies to Optimize Charging Costs
Today, fleet owners and operators know the exact cost of fuel for their ICE vehicle fleets and have good relationships with their fuel suppliers. When fleets transition to EVs, owners and operators need to work with their energy provider — most likely the local electric utility — to understand the potential cost of charging their fleets. Most utilities bill their customers based on these two criteria: energy consumptions and demand. There are many other components of an electric bill which vary between utilities.
To optimize infrastructure and charging costs, software or other technology that can manage charging of electric vehicles should be considered. This technology should account for energy consumption and demand. In some cases, fleet owners may participate in an automatic demand response (ADR) program if there is a strong business case and operations support such an effort.
Vehicle grid integration technologies — including managed charging systems and energy management software — have the potential to significantly reduce energy bills for electric fleets. This is not only beneficial for the bottom line of the owner and operator, but also helps to mitigate increased demand on the grid.
As owners and operators of fleets transition to electric vehicles, developing systematic operations to account for charging vehicles will be fundamental to make a smooth transition. Integrating smart technologies to account for peak demand times, understanding the different types of charging technologies, and who should operate and manage charging infrastructure are all important steps to maintain smooth business operations and minimize financial impacts while still driving toward zero-emissions goals.
Vehicle fleet owners and operators looking at electrification should keep these four key factors in mind as they evaluate the process.