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Data – The Key to Fleet Electrification

With fleet electrification on the rise, utilities are in a unique position to support fleet operators. Electrification can benefit both utilities and fleet operators, but it’s important to base the decision to go electric on data, not assumptions.

Supporting customers as they transition to EVs
With the advancement of electric vehicles, utilities around the world find themselves playing a new role as fuel providers for the transportation sector. Transportation electrification offers substantial opportunity for utilities, but only if they start preparing now.

For utilities, fleet vehicles have unique needs compared to individually-owned electric vehicles (EVs). First, fleet EVs require more electricity to support charging. Fleet vehicles are in service more than a typical consumer car, and larger vehicles such as cargo vans, trucks and buses also require more energy per trip. However, fleet vehicle usage is more predictable. Established routes and charging schedules allow both the fleet operator and the utility to accurately predict and meet charging demand. They also know where charging will occur, as most fleets will use consistent charging locations (such as their fleet yards), which is critical for infrastructural planning.

Planning for electrification
As fleet operators consider electrification, they must determine which vehicles could be replaced, and what charging infrastructure will be needed to support those vehicles. Answering these questions requires detailed information about their existing fleet. Fortunately, fleet operators today are data-savvy, and many use telematics to inform everyday decisions and improve their operations. By using telematics, fleets can better understand vehicle- and trip-specific details, which is key to identifying which vehicles could be transitioned to electric.

One resource for fleet operators unsure of where to start is an Electric Vehicle Suitability Assessment (EVSA). This tool allows operators to compare EV options based on their current vehicle usage (using actual trip data), and provides users with recommended units to replace cost-effectively. The EVSA also provides best-fit analysis, ensuring the EVs they have chosen could complete daily tasks with a single charge, reducing range anxiety.

Source: Move Ahead, Official Blog of Penske Transportation

Once they have an EV replacement plan, fleet operators can work with their utility and service providers to determine the charging infrastructure needed at their facilities. An existing fleet yard may not have sufficient electrical capacity and may require service upgrades. Again, vehicle data can inform what upgrades are needed. Trip information from telematics can help identify where vehicles park, how long they dwell and how far they go each day — all important considerations to determine how much power each vehicle will need to complete its job, and how long a window it has to recharge. Working collaboratively and proactively, utilities and fleet facility managers can efficiently assess electrical supply and infrastructure needs.

Using data to understand EV charging and driving behavior
As fleet operators undertake the transition to EVs, their attention shifts to optimizing usage and charging.

For a fleet manager, telematics provides insights into how their vehicles are performing. They can monitor their vehicles’ driving efficiency, real-time state of charge (SOC) and whether drivers are remembering to plug in at the end of the day. Vehicle-side data can also help determine detailed charging patterns, including where and when a vehicle was charged and the amount of energy a vehicle received.

When charging data is accumulated across the fleet, it unveils a load profile. This profiling is already being performed by utilities, such as Salt River Project in Arizona, using FleetCarma’s SmartCharge Platform to help them determine the impact of consumer EV charging load in their service territory. Monitoring vehicle-side charging data is vehicle and charging equipment agnostic, meaning the same collection method can be used regardless of the type of EV or charging station.

Charge management is critical for fleet operators. Using managed charging to prevent situations where large numbers of vehicles are charging at the same time avoids expensive demand charges while reducing the stress on the grid (a win-win for both the fleet operator and the utility). This can also help efficiently use the available power, minimizing the need for costly upgrades. The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) has resources available to help utilities, fleet operators and service providers understand, evaluate and implement active and passive managed charging strategies.

Many options exist to manage load, from simply staggering when vehicles charge, to using energy management software that dynamically controls the power delivered to the vehicles and optimizes to avoid peak electricity rates. An effective load management strategy will consider vehicle-specific needs, including SOC and the departure time and distance of the next trip, to avoid unnecessary downtime. Utilities should also work with fleet operators to establish an effective load management strategy, which could include real-time notifications and alerting based on zones or time of day.

Educating customers
Utilities can help support fleet operators considering a transition to EVs by providing effective customer education.

EV-focused educational information can address potential and current EV operators at all stages of their EV procurement journey. A utility website offering this information could include:

  • Resources, based on empirical data, to help debunk EV myths and build confidence in the technology, such as:
  • Tools and calculators to help fleet operators better understand true costs, including:
    • EV rate calculator that accurately reflects available rate structures (i.e., demand charges, minimum bill charges, etc.)
    • Guides on alternative rate options that can cater to the customer’s vocation needs
    • Links to available incentives and rebates that can help offset upfront costs
  • Step-by-step instructions for interconnecting EV charging projects that include:
    • Resources for easement, permitting and capacity upgrade requirements
    • Site guide specifications with integrated map tools to enable better site selection
    • Guidelines for application data requirements and the inspection process, providing transparency into total customer fees.

For insights into EV strategic planning, Transportation Electrification Teams creation, and successful EV charging infrastructure programs, check out SEPA’s forthcoming report, Best Practices for Utility Electric Vehicle Infrastructure.

Now is the time for utilities to build a foundation for the future
The EV ecosystem is rapidly evolving, with new vehicle types being added every year. Electric buses, light-duty trucks, transport trucks, as well as longer range passenger vehicles continue to enter the market, providing more opportunities for fleet operators looking to go electric.

Every service territory is unique, and driving behaviors and energy demand has changed significantly with the latest EV generation. Factors such as traffic patterns, topography and temperature impact the overall range and efficiency of the vehicle, subsequently influencing charging behavior and energy needs. This highlights why decision makers need to leverage up-to-date data, rather than generic assumptions.

Many utilities have their eyes on the future, when electric fleets could also be used as a distributed energy resource through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) or microgrid applications. However, with fleet operators looking to make the change to electric now, utilities can take action today to help ensure a mutually beneficial transition.

To get more involved in fleet electrification discussions, join the SEPA Electric Vehicle Fleet Electrification Subcommittee: a subcommittee of the SEPA Electric Vehicle Working Group. Through collaboration, networking, and peer-to-peer learning, this group tackles barriers to fleet electrification by identifying and disseminating win-win solutions for utilities and fleet customers. This group works to accelerate fleet EV adoption by deploying infrastructure intelligently to meet fleet needs, minimizing grid impacts and leveraging EVs as grid assets.

About Charlotte Argue
As Senior Manager, Fleet Electrification at Geotab, Charlotte’s focus is on enabling fleets to transition to electric. She is a subject matter expert in fleet electrification and a champion for Geotab’s technology solutions in the EV industry and is an active member of SEPA’s EV working groups. She is passionate about the evolution of the EV ecosystem and is interested in how telematics can help bridge the gap between utilities and fleet operators on the path to electrification.