The Logistics of Fleet EV Charging Station Deployment

 In Fleet Management

We recently looked at four crucial decisions fleets must make before installing EV charging infrastructure.

To quickly recap, fleets need to understand when they’ll be investing in electric vehicles, where the charging stations will best suit their needs, how many stations are required, and the optimal charging power mix.

This week, we turn our focus to logistics. Once you’ve decided on your charging goals, the next step is figuring out how to achieve them. Here are seven issues a fleet manager will want to address when planning EVSE infrastructure deployment.

1) Government Funding

Before budgeting your fleet EV charging station investment, one of the first things to explore is incentives offered at the state or local levels. When the federal government approved $99.8 mil in funding for charging stations back in 2009, Seattle was ready to act – and has since installed more than 150 charging stations.

The EV Project, which helped to fund the installation of more than 12,000 charging stations across the United States during the Obama years, has long ago run out of money. Still, there are currently EVSE incentives available in more than two dozen states—and a number of cities offer their own perks as well.

2) Staggering Installations

For fleets installing charging stations at multiple locations, it may make sense to stagger investments based on how frequently each station is likely to be used. Andrea Pratt, Seattle’s Green Fleet Program Manager, helped to oversee the growth of her city’s charge network from 66 stations to more than 150.

Pratt says Seattle based its schedule and distribution of stations largely on when and where new EVs were slated to be added to the fleets. Typically, EVs are purchased as older cars reached the end of their use. “It was about lining up replacement schedules with how many chargers we need,” she told FleetCarma.

3) Capacity

Some charging hubs may require adding transformers to boost electric capacity.

For multi-charger installations—especially those involving high-power, DC fast-charging stations—managers need to be conscious of the electrical capacity available at a given site. In some cases, updating wiring at a site to add capacity could end up being the most costly aspect of the installation. (A consultation with your electrical contractor should answer any questions related to this point.)

Fortunately, thanks to massive improvements in the efficiency, many sites offer an abundance of excess capacity.

Most of the Alameda County’s 66 charging stations are located at a central parking lot in downtown Oakland. “We didn’t have to add any transformers,” says Phillip Kobernick, Sustainability Project Manager for Alameda County. “Older structures have higher capacity because lighting and other efficiency upgrades have been made over the years.”

4) Planning and Permitting

Like any major electrical installation, putting in charging stations usually requires obtaining the proper permits. This process will be further complicated if additional electrical capacity needs to be added to a site.

In Oakland and some other cities, public agencies are self-permitting. Private fleets (and public planners in other cities) may not be so lucky. Thankfully, numerous cities across the country offer expedited permit approval for EVSE installation. Your electrical contractor should be aware of the process and permit requirements, but you can also look up your state on the Alternative Fuels Data Center website to find out if your city has special policies for EVSE permitting.

5) Electricity Rates

Time of Use (TOU) pricing has grown increasingly popular around the country for EV owners. Individuals and businesses that use a large portion of their energy during off-peak hours can save big by locking in to a TOU scheme.

This is great news for most, but in some cases, certain TOU pricing structures can present big problems for large charging station installations. Ideally, city fleets would make their charging stations available to the public during the day—when their fleet vehicles typically aren’t charging—as much as possible. Unfortunately, TOU rates and commercial surcharges can sometimes make this difficult.

Oakland’s downtown charge hub offers access to both fleet vehicles and the general public. This leads to a lot of energy use—placing the garage at the highest tier of PG&E’s commercial demand surcharge rates. “That’s half our bill,” says Kobernick. “It really cuts into our ROI.”

“We’ve dedicated over two thirds of the energy allotment of our downtown garage to EV charging, so we’re actively involved in working on solutions to reduce our energy load and make the return on investment work even better,” he continued. “This includes off-peak charging, demand response charging, and eventually battery storage for the building.”

6) Data and Telematics

Any fleet with plans of deploying multiple EVs and charging stations is going to want to collect data on their use. Telematics products like FleetCarma log charging and driving patterns. This allows managers to better understand a number of key outputs, from charge cycles to range data. Data is crucial for fleets trying to maximize ROI from minimizing gasoline consumption.

“We saw from FleetCarma that our pool vehicles go an average of 40 miles per day, but our EVs go out for 30 miles per day,” says Kobernick. With this kind of information, managers can target feedback to drivers to ensure that they get as many electric miles out of their plug-ins as possible.

FleetCarma vehicle report screenshot

Recording and analyzing vehicle data is essential for maximizing fleet plug-in ROI.

7) Training

“For most fleet managers, EVs are well out of their wheelhouse,” says Alameda’s Kobernick, who works with managers from numerous local agencies to help bring them up to speed on plug-ins. “This is pretty new for them,” he says.

Managers who are new to EVs can find a number of online resources specifically geared towards helping them plan implementation and teach their drivers. Additionally, many cities and states employ experts like Pratt and Kobernick to help both public and private fleets with the process.

Drivers will need to learn the basics of plugging in, preserving battery, knowing when range is too low to complete a trip, the best times to charge, and a number of other key points. Using telematics data, managers can reinforce training on an individual basis.

One driver’s lead foot may be sapping too much electric energy. Another may have a habit of forgetting to charge plug-in hybrids, causing them to operate on gasoline unnecessarily. With user-individualized data, you can drop helpful reminders to those who need them instead of having to send out emails to the whole staff.

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