Some government fleet vehicles travel short, scheduled routes that make them ideal for conversion to electric vehicles (EVs). Most government fleet vehicles return to a central location after work hours, making nighttime charging an option.
But that’s not all that’s required to convert to an EV fleet. Fleet electrification is complex, and even more so when deploying large numbers of EVs and moving onto work trucks and heavy-duty vehicles. What’s more, installing a significant number of charging stations requires knowledge of vehicles’ electricity needs, facility planning, electricity demand rates, various types of charging equipment, regulations, and funding. It often also requires planning several years out.
Government Fleet spoke to experts in the electrification space, including fleet managers who have years of electrification experience, on how to plan for and deploy EV charging infrastructure.
1. You may not need one charger per vehicle.
In fact, planning for this makes fleet electrification cost-prohibitive, said Sarah Booth, COO of Sawatch Labs, a data consulting company.
“With light-duty vehicles, it is common for many fleets to only need two to three hours of charge daily, so you could charge every couple of nights,” she said.
Fleet operations that are just starting out likely won’t do this — new EV drivers are often hesitant to get into a vehicle that doesn’t have a full charge. Those more experienced with EVs are more comfortable; their fleet operations even have policies stating that certain vehicles don’t need to be plugged in if they are at least 50% or 70% charged, Booth said.
“We see that with fleets that are on their second or third round of deployment of EVs — not their first round of EVs,” Booth said.
She added that this applies to battery-electric vehicles. In contrast, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) should absolutely be plugged in every evening to boost savings by maximizing the miles driven on the battery.
2. Work with your utility early.
As more vehicles rely on grid infrastructure, utilities are working to ensure stability across their service territories. Utilities want to work with fleets looking to electrify, with many having started programs that will help fleet operations with charging infrastructure, including funding assistance.
“I would 100% recommend that fleets engage with their utilities early to understand any upgrades they may need to support charging infrastructure — and many utilities have programs where they might even cover some of those upgrades,” Booth explained.
3. Start centrally
For fleets operating in large service areas, like state agencies or large counties, it’s no surprise that it’s best to start EV deployments and building charging infrastructure in more central locations.
One reason is range.
But, Booth said, another reason is because it may be more difficult to find dealers that can service EVs in rural areas.
4. Plan for expansion from the beginning
Jennifer Brennan, the State of California’s chief/transportation manager and acting deputy director, Office of Sustainability — Transportation Unit, suggested looking at vehicle replacement plans a few years ahead. What types of EVs will be purchased, and what kind of charging infrastructure will be needed? Gathering this information ahead of time should allow adequate time for infrastructure planning, which can help reduce overall costs.
“If we can, if it doesn’t cost much more, we can run conduit while we have the ground open — lay the conduit now and then in two or three years, they can just add the chargers. They don’t have to tear the ground back up,” Brennan explained.
5. Understand electricity demand
The time of day vehicles charge is very important — peak demand charges can significantly increase utility bills. In a report authored by Sawatch and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the authors studied public fleet vehicles and found that the average vehicle required just 2.9 hours on a Level 2 charger for a typical day of driving. Most were parked about 15 hours. This huge difference allows vehicles to be charged during off-peak hours through smart chargers, allowing fleet operations to draw electricity at lower prices.
Those fleet professionals managing demand charges can see significant savings. The price difference can be drastic, with some fleets paying more than double the cost per kWh, said Mike Terreri, EV product manager for AssetWorks.
6. Outsource the infrastructure work
“EV charging projects don’t stop at the charger. EV infrastructure typically requires added panel capacity, new meters, and upgraded utility service. This ‘make-ready work’ typically represents the majority of EV infrastructure costs,” Terreri said. “The good news is there may be help. Many utilities are providing make-ready programs to assist with these acitvities.”
Some EV equipment companies also have programs that will handle the headaches of charging infrastructure. Blink Charging, for example, offers a full turnkey solution, said Amy Dobrikova, vice president of fleet solutions. Public agencies can choose to own the equipment or rent use of the chargers from Blink. One benefit of a rental model? The company is responsible for keeping the chargers up and running, including dealing with maintenance, loss of connection, and vandalism, Dobrikova said.
Another solution? Turn to your facilities manager, said David Dunn, facilities division manager for the City of Orlando. He handled all EV infrastructure installations for the city’s 140 EVs, leaving the fleet team to handle the vehicles.
“A lot of times when I speak to other fleet directors or fleet managers, I suggest to them, if you’re not already communicating with your facility counterpart, when you go back home, you need to do that, because that’s an in-house resource to you,” Dunn said.
7. Consider pairing grid with solar charging
“Solar, when paired with battery energy storage, can be used to continue charging operations during grid outages. And solar on its own may be an effective tool for peak-shaving during daytime operations,” Terreri said.
Still, solar panels can only provide so much power. Terreri warned that fleet operations taking this path need to do their research to see if the benefits — and costs — are worth it. The power requirements of dozens of heavy-duty EVs can make a rooftop solar project inadequate, even at warehouses where rooftop space is at a maximum. The power requirements of medium- and heavy-duty trucks are too large in most cases, he added.
However, free-standing solar chargers, like the EV ARC from Beam, have become a popular and effective tool for public fleets. The mobile units allow fleet operations to avoid all permitting and construction work for chargers, are quick to deploy, don’t rely on the grid and its capacity constraints, and can be used for emergency vehicles such as police cars since they aren’t affected by power shutoffs, according to Beam Global CEO Desmond Wheatley.
He added that the EV ARC generates and stores enough electricity for 265 driving miles per day for sedans (half that for fully loaded pickup trucks and a quarter that for Class 8 vehicles), and up to six vehicles can be plugged in at one time.
8. Order charging equipment early
Most people are aware of longer delivery time for vehicles, but fleet managers need to consider supply chain issues when it comes to chargers as well. For example, delivery dates for many popular types of DC fast chargers are already being extended into 2023, Terreri said.
“Order your chargers as early as possible,” he advised. “The industry’s growth is unprecedented, and the supply chain is also being impacted in unexpected ways.”
9. Choose equipment carefully
Terreri advised fleet professionals to involve as many stakeholders as possible to understand the “fit” of their charging infrastructure, including the software and use cases. This will allow fleet professionals to decide the best solution for the long term, especially when it comes to scaling infrastructure.
“Most organizations are fixated on the vehicles, and don’t know much about the charging hardware and software that they are buying. Many charging solutions were designed for non-fleet use, and there are gaps that can make EV fleet management more difficult than it should be,” Terreri said. “Don’t take for granted that a Level 2 charger is a Level 2 charger. There are lots of options.”
Before purchasing, fleet professionals should think about equipment durability, maintenance considerations, features that are beneficial to fleets, and integration with existing software. A pilot project may help answer some of these questions before a full deployment.
10. Consider Level 1 and fast chargers
Level 2 chargers may be more common for public fleets, but they aren’t the only way to go.
The State of California has about 1,000 Level 1 chargers for its 1,000+ PHEVs. Because these have smaller batteries, Level 1 chargers are sufficient to fully charge these vehicles when plugged in overnight.
This is important in downtown Sacramento, the state capital, where the electrical capacity is maxed out, Brennan said. In these cases, where it doesn’t make sense to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to expand electrical capacity, Level 1s are a good solution.
Meanwhile, the State of California is also installing DC fast chargers to accommodate electric vehicles with longer range, like Teslas, Chevrolet Bolts, and medium- and heavy-duty EVs.
“We’re starting to focus on the fast charging now and that’s going to require electrical upgrades in almost every case, because fast charging requires three-phase power, so you know you’re getting more complicated and more investment on the electrical infrastructure,” Brennan said.
11. Educate drivers
Often, drivers are the ones who physically need to plug their vehicles in. They need to be educated on how to use charging infrastructure correctly so they aren’t left with no power the next morning.
“Make it an easy, seamless process so people don’t get discouraged with this new technology,” Brennan recommended. “We have to remember that this is very new to a lot of people, and that can make people nervous."
Orlando’s EV Expansion
The City of Orlando began electrifying its fleet several years ago, and it now has 140 BEVs and PHEVs. Orlando’s fleet vehicles range from Nissan Leafs and Chevrolet Volts all the way to terminal tractors. It also has a Ford cargo van EV and two Ford F-150 Lightnings on order.
Jonathan Ford, fleet division manager, said the fleet department’s policy is to buy EVs when possible to comply with the city’s goal of a 100% alternative-fuel fleet by 2030.
“Anything that comes to the market that we can find feasible for our fleet, that’s a practical use for us, we were buying it,” he said.
Facilities Division Manager David Dunn’s team checks out the possible charging location, determines the available power, coordinates updates if needed, works with the utilities, and facilitates the installation. He added that even if a location doesn’t have enough power to charge, for example, five vehicles, dynamic load management (or DLM) can optimize a property’s charging loads so that a) electricity is evenly distributed to all the EVs that are charged simultaneously and b) charging happens at a full volume whenever there’s enough capacity. However, he does prefer to have enough power for each charger independently. The team has handled the installation of about 100 dual-head chargers.
Dunn has been working on a solar canopy project with large battery storage that can be used to feed the EV chargers in the motor pool. He expects it to be able to charge at least 15 passenger vehicles and hopes to also use it to provide backup power in case of a grid outage. The project is currently stalled due to the high cost of metals and solar panel availability.
Fairfield’s Struggle with Infrastructure
David Renschler, CPFP, fleet division manager for the City of Fairfield, California, has been working on transit and heavy-duty EV infrastructure for the last two years, and he’s trying to answer a lot of questions that haven’t been answered before.
“We need to electrify 60 transit buses beginning in 2026. And then all our 60 medium- and heavy-duty, and light-duty, Public Works fleet vehicles on the other side of the yard,” he explained.
In a rare move, he’s focusing on these first, rather than light-duty vehicles. That’s because the Innovative Clean Transit regulation mandates that transit agencies with fewer than 100 buses must start buying zero-emission vehicles by 2026. He’s focusing on the Public Works vehicles because he’s certain new legislation — the Advanced Clean Fleet Regulation — will be passed in December mandating electrification.
The first challenge is determining how much electricity the vehicles will need. For transit vehicles, this can be calculated using mileage. For work trucks that travel three to five miles daily but are used for hours every day, Renschler relies on fuel consumption and turns that into kilowatt-hour energy consumption.
Once he’s determined the chargers and the power he needs, he’ll have to see if the utility can provide that much power. Sometimes, they can’t. Renschler said a colleague had experienced this issue and is now looking into selling his facility and buying another one in an industrial location to get the required power.
Another thing Renschler thinks is important but that is often overlooked: the increased space needed between parking spots and the turning radius vehicles need, especially in small lots. To allow room for charging infrastructure, parking spots that were six inches apart will have to be three feet apart. That means fewer vehicles fit in the same space.
Renschler and the team have spent hours reorganizing the parking lot with different scenarios to allow for additional spacing between spots and to keep traffic flowing, working with the 13 managers within Public Works and Transit. They flipped the traffic flow, moved vehicle parking spots, figured out parking angles so that vehicles could turn safely, moved a shed and a couple of offices, and then did it all over again when city planners said they needed a 10-foot setback from the street.
He’s considered covering up the parking area with solar panels, but even that would only provide less than half the power the vehicles need. A solution that involved solar panels and large battery backs was prohibitively expensive.
Having spent two years on the process, Renschler knows the importance of planning.
“Have all your research together because otherwise, you’re going to spend millions of dollars and you’re not going to end up with what you need,” he said.