Vehicle electrification is the most significant development in transportation since the early 1900’s, when the internal combustion engine automobile began replacing the horse and buggy. And its impact is equally as momentous and far-reaching.
The complex transformation to electric vehicle (EV) fleets — a transition beset with unknowns — was explored by two experienced fleet professionals in the session, “Electrifying Medium- & Heavy-Duty Fleet Vehicles: Real-World Insights,” at the recent Government Fleet Expo and Conference (GFX) in Detroit.
David Renschler, CPFP, fleet division manager for the city of Fairfield, California, is a 30-plus-year fleet industry veteran, primarily in government service. Currently responsible for a 700-unit fleet operation, Renschler was also named 2022 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year at GFX.
His co-presenter, David Worthington, is fleet manager for the County of Santa Clara, California. With more than 32 years of management experience in automotive- and truck-related industries and 13 years in the government fleet sector, Worthington has led teams recognized for their work in alternative fuel technologies and fleet sustainability.
The two offered insights and practical advice regarding EV charging equipment, infrastructure planning, cost recovery, safety, and the challenges of transitioning to an EV fleet.
EV Charging Equipment
“We can buy and install the equipment, but you need to understand the equipment.” Charging equipment – the stations, cables, and ports — “is actually the smaller part of our challenges with electrifying a fleet,” Worthington said.
Charging capacity is available in different levels: Level 1 — 110 volts — found in common household electric outlets; Level 2 — 209-240-volts — for 4-5 hour sedan EV charging; and Level 3, DC fast-charging — 400 volts-plus — capable of medium- and heavy-duty truck charging. Smart charging stations provide transfer of energy and usage data, as well as capacity control.
High kWh capacity and shorter charge times require larger charging stations. In addition, some charging stations require liquid-cooled cords to support high voltage and amperage designs.
“You have to get the infrastructure in place before the EVs show up,” Worthington emphasized.
An EV infrastructure plan begins with information gathering and data analysis. Renschler and Worthington advise first determining how much power an EV truck fleet will require. Next, create a fleet vehicle inventory, identify units to replace with EVs, and research market offerings, which change frequently.
Other data to gather includes battery size (kWh) for each selected fleet EV, charge rates and AC/DC voltage requirements. This information helps determine charger types, sizes, and the number of units that best fit the fleet’s needs.
Another important consideration: overnight parking. Where will chargers be installed? Is available power capacity adequate? Can the current parking space accommodate charging stations and remain large enough for vehicle maneuverability?
“Real estate is going to become a very high priority as you begin to plan for heavy-duty and medium-duty charging infrastructure,” Renschler said.
Parking garages offer the cheapest infrastructure installation, according to Worthington. “They typically have large electrical vaults already, panels can be upgraded, and significant charging infrastructure already supplies that location.”
The worst locations are those far from electrical infrastructure. Trenches must be built through concrete, asphalt, landscape, and dirt to install power lines and other utility provider services underground — a very expensive process.
“When you figure out how much charging infrastructure you need, it’s very, very important to engage your electric utility providers early and often,” Worthington said.
Worthington and Renschler agree: Installing EV charging infrastructure is not a quick process. “Typical infrastructure, just Level 2, very simple to install for electric sedans in a government fleet, from start to finish, will take a minimum of a few years,” Worthington said.
Analyze the gathered data to strategize, develop a budget forecast and create an implementation plan.
Electrification costs may be recovered. Facilities budgets may absorb the expense or customers can be billed per electrical unit, with the help of smart chargers and software integration. “It’s a new way of thinking — electricity as a fuel,” Renschler said.
The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) may also provide EV fleets with an important revenue stream to offset ongoing charging station costs. In many states, including California, the LCFS program offers credits worth $150 to $200.
“One megawatt equals an LCFS credit,” Renschler explained. “Every time you put electricity into a vehicle, you’re generating toward another credit.”
Electrification does have risks. “Everybody in your shop will need to learn the safety aspect of working with and around high-voltage equipment,” Worthington said. Standard operating procedures and safety protocols are a must.
Renschler’s shop is changing safety equipment. “Everyone’s going to have to have omega-rated boots; we’re going to have a series of 1,000 volt arc flash suits around the shop and hot sticks,” he related. “The long fiberglass poles used by electric utilities, those are going to be common in the shop now.”
Budgeting and funding for electrification create even more challenges for government fleet managers. No two installations are alike, and infrastructure costs vary significantly.
In Worthington’s experience, the cost of installing EV infrastructure follows a reverse bell curve.
“The fewer stations you install, the costs are higher. The more stations you install also incur high cost. In the middle is the sweet spot. And the sweet spot depends on what type of location you’re installing the charging stations,” he explained.
Other challenges include vehicle/technology availability; newer specifications, compatibility issues, the latest innovations, and a shrinking technician talent pool.
Experienced with their home state’s already-established EV regulations and laws, Worthington and Renschler advise looking to California “so you’re prepared for the future. If you want to know what’s going on, you should talk to a fleet manager from California. We’re all struggling.”