By Ryan Kennedy

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates. 

Today’s fleet managers are at a strategic inflection point: How will they lead their fleets into an electric chapter?

Federal and local climate goals and mandates — like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Emission Standards Regulations and California’s recent Advanced Clean Fleets rule — are ushering the industry toward electrification. Yet, as it stands, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to transitioning fleets, leaving fleet managers with a number of nuanced considerations and decisions.

In my conversations with fleet managers over the past few years, I’ve learned firsthand what separates those who have a smooth transition from those who face deployment delays and difficulty scaling. It all boils down to implementing reliable, scalable charging infrastructure. To make the transition smooth and sustainable, fleet managers must plan for future charging needs, consider energy usage and management, and choose a completely reliable solution that integrates seamlessly into existing operations. 

Deploying charging infrastructure

Charging infrastructure considerations are the wild west for diesel-powered fleets. The historical gas station model where fueling up is quick and ubiquitous shifts into a new — yet critical — model of on-premise refueling, most typical with fleet-owned real estate. Deploying chargers at scale requires a delicate and long-term dance between energy management, resource allocation and efficiency. The good news is that the first step is to consider things that all fleet managers know well: vehicle counts, average route lengths and each vehicle’s time spent parked behind the fence.

Some of the early assumptions made by fleet managers is that fast charging will be necessary for all vehicles in all circumstances. In reality, it’s more likely that a healthy mix of higher-output Level 2 and direct-current fast chargers (DCFC or Level 3) will effectively serve the entire fleet. A couple fast chargers will meet quick-turn or emergency charge needs for most fleets while Level 2 chargers can keep the fleet charged whenever the vehicles are parked.

Once the charger mix is defined for today’s needs, the next step is to address how the fleet may expand. Put simply, I’ve found fleet managers find the most value in a partner that can scale with them. A system that lacks infrastructure scalability can result in hefty costs down the line, multiple charging partners or stranded infrastructure assets. Flexible infrastructure not only allows an operation to scale easily, but also allows the system to be retrofitted to accommodate evolving needs of the fleet. The right infrastructure that can grow as your business grows is just the first step in effective electrification.

Managing charging infrastructure

Beyond the physical chargers, it’s important to consider how to manage the new equipment. In other words: Once it’s on your property, how will it integrate into your operation?

Let’s visualize for a minute. A vehicle pulled into the lot to plug into a bank with other vehicles already charging. Beyond that, there are multiple banks of chargers in use at that property and more throughout other properties within your portfolio.

The right management system should be able to adjust energy flow like a dimmer switch — at any level and across every charger. As a new EV pulls in, the system should energize that charging station, cranking it up to an appropriate level while simultaneously — and only if necessary — adjusting other chargers down to absorb the impact of the new charger. This keeps energy levels below peak demand or facility limit.

What’s more, the right system can and should manage your entire portfolio of sites and assets on the same platform. In practice, this should include seamless integration into your existing telematics so you can see each charger’s status and the energy usage across your properties.

Although often overlooked, energy management systems also need safety-critical on-premise energy management controls. Cloud-only connectivity can lead to a vulnerability in how reliable the energy management system is. If cloud communication is ever lost — even just for a short while — it can disrupt a large system for much longer. In the case where there are more chargers than electrical capacity, it then becomes crucial to have reliable, secure and on-premise controls.

Real-time visibility and energy management are essential to optimize electricity usage on a property, making utility bills more predictable month over month. The more precise the energy management capabilities are, the easier it will be to expand from the first dozen chargers to hundreds more.

Ensuring chargers always work

As an electric fleet grows, reliance on the electric vehicle charging infrastructure grows too: An inoperable charger can mean an inoperable fleet with costly downtime. Unreliable chargers are a massive — and all too common — issue today.

There are four things to look for when determining how reliable a charging solution might be: overall design architecture, maintenance accessibility, monitoring capabilities and technical redundancies. Let’s dive in.

I first urge fleet managers to look at the complexity of the charger design and its system: Having more parts means more possible points of technical failure and more specialized repair needs. When those kinds of chargers are broken, they ultimately have greater inaccessibility with longer wait times and steeper maintenance costs.

When it comes to monitoring, fleet managers should seek out solutions that provide partial or constant monitoring to identify disrupted chargers, have remote diagnostics capabilities, and solve some problems without the need for onsite technicians. Doing so ensures that most issues are fixed long before they become operational problems.

Technical redundancies, or intentionally creating two access points to the system, can mitigate downtime by providing backup functions in the event of an internet outage or a part malfunction. Although wireless and cloud-based management have important perks, adding an onsite controller wired through hardware ensures chargers always work even if there is a network disruption. 

Time to get started

There’s a lot to consider when transitioning to electric, but the more intentional that fleet managers are in the beginning phases of an electric deployment, the smoother the installation and eventual expansion becomes.

It’s no secret it will be different from diesel-fueled operations, but the goal remains the same: boosting efficiency, remaining flexible and continuing to grow your business — and the right partners can help you do this.

If there’s one thing you take away from this, it’s to get a head start on the process so you can take your time and be picky at each juncture. Prioritize this and you’ll reap the benefits of an electric fleet that has durable charging that can drive your business growth now and into the future.

About the author

Ryan Kennedy is cofounder and CEO of Atom Power, a networked energy company. Prior to founding Atom Power in 2014, Ryan was an electrical project manager for electrical consulting company, WB Moore. He graduated from University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering.

The post Overcoming roadblocks to fleet electrification appeared first on FreightWaves.

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