Whether you’re on top of the EV game or just dipping your toe into the no-emissions world, there is still a lot to know about transitioning your fleet and the infrastructure changes that come with this. Two fleet managers share their journey and the challenges that come with adding infrastructure to accommodate a greener fleet.
The City of Alexandria, Virginia
Readjustment. It’s one of the first words Darryl Syler, CPFP, fleet services division chief for the city of Alexandria, Virginia, uses to describe what has been happening within his fleet.
Syler, who joined Alexandria fleet services in January of 2022, previously spent two years with the State of Ohio and eight years with the city of Dublin, Ohio, where he led the fleet to be the No. 1 Small Fleet in the country in the Leading Fleets award two years in a row.
Before Syler even came on board, Alexandria city officials already had an alternative fuel plan, which included electric vehicles (EVs), alternative fuel, and hybrids. Syler was recommended to the city as someone who could help with the fleet’s transition.
“We're headed in the direction of getting our fleet to zero-emission vehicles,” Syler notes. “But one of the stumbling blocks that we've had to overcome is the infrastructure.”
Syler’s previous work managing infrastructure, on top of the fleet itself, consisted of going after grant funding for essential components such as chargers while also collaborating with individuals in the facility groups or building maintenance.
Syler was able to install chargers around Dublin and the state of Ohio
But in Alexandria, he’s facing a new set of challenges. The EV infrastructure process has been slower than he’s used to and the fleet the city plans to bring in will need its own kind of EV charging infrastructure. But it’s these kinds of challenges that Syler was brought on.
Currently, he’s laying out the plan for the energy manager in order to create a better understanding of what the city’s needs are so that EV charging infrastructure is strategically placed so that everyone can benefit from the new installments.
Two years ago, the city became the first municipality in Northern Virginia to add all-electric buses to its fleet. Now the city is also demoing a Mack Electric Refuse Truck, one of the vehicles that would require charging capabilities designed for heavy-duty vehicles. The city also hosted an EV ride and drive event in early December that was attended by area municipalities as well as city staff from Alexandria.
The city has also secured a Beam solar charging panel. Syler hopes to have it installed around April 2023.
“What that's going to do is give us an opportunity to place it in different areas of the city for city vehicles and see how it's going to work for us,” Syler explains. “We’ll get the infrastructure in place, it may just take a little time.”
Also on the list of purchases to move forward with the city’s sustainable development is a Mach-E Mustang while Syler and the team are looking at adding some smaller vocational-type trucks.
The city manager’s office and city council put together an alternative fuel plan with deadlines they’d like to make. However, this plan was put together during the start of the pandemic and before anyone knew that a supply chain disruption would cause issues across governments when trying to acquire products and equipment for fleets.
Because of this, city officials are taking another look at the plan and trying to decide if an amendment is needed to extend the deadlines to allow enough time for adding the vehicles and infrastructure needed.
“I think originally the hope was by 2025 to have about 200 vehicles in place, but I don't think we're going to get there by any stretch of the imagination because of the availability,” Syler says. “But what we do hope to have in place here within the next 12 to 18 months is a more up-to-date plan that will allow us to move forward and progress on this.”
When asked about some of the biggest challenges he’s facing during this process Syler points out the supply issues. It’s also helping everyone understand what it will take to get EV infrastructure in place.
“It's not, snap your fingers and it's here,” he says. “It is a process and we need to do our due diligence and move a little quicker.”
Part of the fleet management team’s goal for this next year is to go after as much grant money as they can to help move projects along more quickly.
But Syler notes that first and foremost he wants to garner support from leadership before going after funding.
“In 12 to 18 months, we hope to have a whole different view of what we look like here in Alexandria,” Syler says. “It's a no-brainer to hit in the direction of electrification or alternative fuels, plug-in hybrids, however you want to look at it. We need to kind of get ready for the future.”
Looking back, Syler says that if he could do something differently throughout this infrastructure journey, and what other fleets should consider, would be not rushing to buy EVs and spacing out these goals, possibly in a five, 10-, and 15-year approach to make the program targets more obtainable.
“Look at what best fits your fleet,” he advises. “There are just some things that aren't there yet because OEMs aren't there yet.”
If he could leave other fleets with some advice it would be this: do your homework. For Syler, spending time to do thorough research has been key throughout the process. Syler explains that everything being done needs to be fully vetted. The last thing a fleet wants is to be sold a bill of goods and not have that benefit a transitioning fleet, Syler explains. Because in the end, it’s about sitting down and taking a look at what best suits the needs of the fleet as change becomes an inevitable part of municipalities’ futures.
And as Syler stated, “Things are going to change whether we like it or not.”
The City of Fairfield, California
At the city of Fairfield, California, David Renschler, CPFP, fleet division manager, oversees approximately 700 units, from smaller 16-foot mowers, to medium- and heavy-duty dump trucks.
For about eight years Renschler has been working with the California Air Resources Board and various work groups on the Innovative Clean Transit Rule (ICT), a regulation promulgated by the California Air Resources Board which requires public transit agencies in the state of California to shift their bus fleets to zero emissions buses (ZEB), either electric buses or fuel cell buses.
Working toward zero emissions Renschler has been focused on battery electric. About three years ago the planning process was kicked into gear allowing the city’s fleet to already have some experience when it came time for other regulations that have come into effect in California that would require fleets to go zero emission for light, medium heavy duty and soon to be off-road fleet.
Part of a pilot program the city has includes battery electric, Lithium Ion 5000 pound capacity forklifts. Due to this, chargers were installed in two different locations.
The city received its first Lightning around June 2022, which meant three level two chargers with a total of six ports were installed.
An additional charger with two ports was also installed in one of the city water treatment plants, also part of that pilot program. At the end of 2022, the city was having a 124 kilowatt, DC fast charger put in as well. The charger will be used on both medium heavy-duty and light-duty vehicles as needed.
The city also has three battery electric buses with 686 kilowatt-hour battery packs that are on order here for the facility to start transit buses. Renschler will be ordering five more in the first quarter of 2023. These come out to $1.2 million each.
The city has approved the purchase of EV fueling software as this will be an important revenue source, according to Renschler.
“Here in California, we have low carbon fuel standard credits, which is the amount of energy we put into batteries; we keep that data,” Renschler notes. “We have a company we provide data to and then they provide it to the California Air Resources Board. That turns into credits that are sold on the market. And that's a very important revenue stream for us.”
Renschler explains that cities need to start looking more closely at fuel sales, predicting that electricity will start to be sold as a “fuel.”
“They're going to need that as a revenue source,” he explains.
For Fairfield, all the infrastructure being put in the main corporation yard is going to be on one meter with about three megawatts of power all going on that meter. Those electricity bills will be charged to fleet, which will in turn be charging customers based on the electricity put into each vehicle.
“I call it an ecosystem. It's because you need to do everything that you do with your traditional vehicles differently with electric so it's almost like having two separate fleets,” Renschler says.
As for the top priority during all of this? The simple answer is trying to be successful. However, it goes much further.
Like other fleet managers have explained, Renschler points out that creating this new kind of infrastructure means extra research to look at factors such as duty cycles, mileage driven, and hours put on per day. Plus research needs to be done on individual vehicles to figure out what can be replaced, battery pack size, and efficiency.
Renschler explains that this has to be done before determining what the charging needs are as infrastructure takes the longest.
“You might spend two years putting that data together, researching all of that, and then making your determinations into how many charges you need,” he says.
An example he uses is when a consultant thought the chargers in the corporation yard needed 9.9 megawatts of power. When Renschler went through that same data he found that, based on research he’d done over the last two years, this number needed to be pared down to 2.8 megawatts.
“That's a really big difference. That's a lot of space for transformers and charge boxes that you can get back,” he says, adding that they’re still going to need 90 feet by 60 feet in the main parking lot … that's 10 45-foot bus parking spots that are taking up with above ground transformers and charge boxes and switchgear to provide power to the chargers and dispensers. For the medium- and heavy-duty vehicles here in the yard. That's a lot of space and some yards don't have that space to give up.”
Renschler says fleets need to think about the parking space itself and how the dispenser and/or the charger will fit between the spaces. This could take a six-inch painted line on the ground to a three-foot wide above-ground raised concrete area with bollards to protect the dispenser. This loses parking spaces to the switchgear and the transformers. At the city of Fairfield, some buildings needed to be moved in the yard to allow for traffic flow.
“You have to look at the traffic flow in your yard after you make these changes,” Renschler says. “We had multiple revisions with the engineers on how the traffic flow will work in the yard. And we had to move our bus wash to a different location. We also had to add four bays.”
Fairfield is currently in the design phase and Renschler hopes for construction to be completed in 2026.
Taking all of this into account, there’s also the factor of price. For Fairfield, an engineer came up with a rough order of magnitude of $60 million. But these funds aren’t readily available so now Renschler faces that added challenge of finding funding.
The fleet was approved for a $12 million grant from the FTA because of the city’s transit buses. However, they’re still $48 million shy. Add on top of this the city is trying to plan for having all zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Renschler and the team are now looking at temporary charging solutions until the main infrastructure can be installed, assuming they find the money.
The only thing Renschler would have changed about this process, and advises other fleets to do, is “start earlier.” He explains the utility department needs to know what is happening as soon as possible to compare data and see how much power will be needed.
“Some fleets that I've helped out actually found that utility couldn’t even get them the power they need so they have to sell their property and go buy property somewhere else in an industrial area,” Renschler says. “When you talk to your utility and tell them you need six or seven megawatts of power in your yard, the circuits may not be able to provide enough power and if they do need to be upgraded you're looking at a minimum of three to four years for the utility to do that. So that could cause you a problem when you're trying to start buying vehicles and ‘24 and don't have a way to charge them.”
To summarize this process, Renschler explains that when you start to go beyond infrastructure transitions for light-duty vehicles, and start building toward medium, heavy, and off road, things become more complicated.
For Renschler, that’s when fleet managers need to shop around for a good consultant and understand where funding can and is being used. He also advises that fleets should budget for this change, especially with vehicle replacement funds, as fleets should expect to double that price.
Finally, make sure that you have connections who can provide their own advice when it’s time to make the switch.
“Go to conferences, listen to folks that are speaking about their electrification, get to know them, have them as a resource,” he says. “We're all here to help each other.”