The scale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) holds tremendous promise for simultaneously forging new industries, spurring economic growth and achieving a healthier environment. But this paradigm shift is not without its challenges. At the federal, state and local levels, public fleets can play a visibly foundational role in accelerating the transition to clean mobility by demonstrating that fleet electrification will be both reliable and cost-efficient.
According to the US. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2022 the U.S. transportation sector generated the largest share, at 27%, of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Currently, more than 90% of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum-based, i.e., fossil fuels, primarily gasoline and diesel.
While electricity generation obviously requires a fuel source, a growing percentage (23% in 2022, per the EPA) comes from renewable energy sources, with the potential for an even greater share in the coming years. Even now, multiple studies confirm that electric miles driven, inclusive of fuel used in power generation, produce lower emissions than do liquid-fueled miles.
Beside contributing to climate change, pollution and the resulting public health risks, reliance on fossilfueled fleet vehicles to serve as the circulatory system of our economy ensures that into the foreseeable future highly volatile global hydrocarbon prices will remain a burden to logistics companies, transit agencies and service entities.
This fuel price volatility is borne by consumers through inflation, higher cost of goods
or as a drain on operating income for the fleet owner. Electrification’s second major benefit is the predictability of fuel pricing to fleet owners, resulting in a visible ROI and lower overall total cost of ownership. Government fleets can demonstrate this positive impact by using fuel and maintenance savings to accelerate conversion plans with confidence.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that for 2020 there were 1,168,000 government automobiles in fleets of 15 or more and 1,746,000 trucks in fleets of 15 or more. These numbers comprise military vehicles and federal, state, county and local government vehicles.
This scale, and the clustering of depot-based vehicles, makes government fleets excellent candidates for continued electrification while supporting our nation’s commitment to EVs, as embodied in the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was signed into law in late 2021.
Deployment issues: from promise to practicality
A fleet’s decision to go electric at scale, including government fleets, entails a complex energy transition, given that infrastructure, use cases, new vehicle performance, electricity supply and utilities are all novel variables. Thus, electrification can be an outstanding solution if deployed through a customized, programmatic approach for both private and government enterprises with concurrent, sometimes conflicting objectives of fleet sustainability and a need to control fuel spending.
In particular, we have found that large organizations with experienced fleet operations may fall into a “DIY trap” by focusing on an equipment procurement process, assuming that charging technology is commoditized and that intelligent energy management for electric fueling is embedded in any “after-market” purchase of chargers. Risks include uncontrolled peak power costs, tech reliability, outmoded or mismatched infrastructure for fleet duty cycles and long-term fuel price exposure.
Realistically, “free” (grantbased or IRA) funding for vehicles or infrastructure doesn’t absolve government fleets from the obligation to team with experts and approach electrification with significant due diligence with respect to each charging location investment, as well as long-term duty cycle analysis.
For example, deploying government fleet electrification projects requires careful planning and detailed interaction with electric utilities to ensure infrastructure is well-served, deployed on time, and acts as a supporting asset to utilities for grid integrity.
Overall reliability is the largest risk factor for any fleet electrification program launching between 2023 and 2025. The Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE) OEM track record for uptime performance is not utility-grade. It requires expert charging capacity, energy management and potentially on-site energy resources such as storage to ensure critical fleet functions will be served with electric fuel.
A robust study on the Reliability of Open Public Electric Vehicle Direct Current Fast Chargers, published in 2022 by the Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, found that only 72.5%, or less than three-fourths, of 657 EVSEs evaluated were functional. Common issues included unresponsive or unavailable screens, payment system failures, charge initiation failures, network failures or broken connectors.
The maturing electric fuel industry
As the Berkeley Study suggests, only through a long-term electric fuel relationship, where a program partner takes on the risk of project planning, delivery, investment and performance-guaranteed operation at a predictable price, are government fleets assured of meeting their proforma fuel cost and operating objectives for electrified fleets. Governments should expect solution providers to financially backstop performance and not incur the tech, expansion, and energy management risk that many equipment vendors currently expect governments to absorb.
Notably, such Charging-as-a-Service (CaaS) programs allow government entities at all levels to access ever-widening, strategically located networks of charging stations that serve both local transit and longerhaul requirements. Capital investment, preventive maintenance, emergency repair and upgrade costs and negotiation with utility providers are transferred to private-sector competition.
With 10% of new car sales being electric in 2022, the good news is that we are emerging from the “early adopter” era for electrification. Most impressively, leading automakers in the United States and globally are continuing their commitment to and strong investment in EVs, including core battery storage and related technologies.
They are aggressively developing and offering robust electric vehicle platforms suited to various uses for consumers and governments. As government fleets turn from pilot programs to full-scale implementation, these developments should be viewed and modeled not as a “gear purchase” but as a comprehensive fuel transition.
Government can be a leader in adopting EV fleets and transitioning to a zero or near-zero emissions world of transportation, all while demonstrating superior cost and life-cycle management.
About the Author: Kevin Kushman serves as Electrada’s CEO. Kevin’s 20+ years in the energy technology and utility space includes CEO and CFO roles with energy tech software firms, such as Integral Analytics, Blue Pillar and Current Group, founding leadership of Cinergy Ventures corporate venture fund, and co- founder of CleanBridge Energy Partners. Kevin is a frequent panelist and speaker on topics ranging from fleet electrification to distributed energy and microgrids.