EV transition

From the December 2022 print edition

As organizations continue to prioritize corporate social responsibility, more businesses are exploring a variety of sustainability initiatives.

For fleet operators, this often means evaluating the feasibility of electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrids, and other alternative fuel options to align with their companies’ sustainability goals. As you begin to develop your strategic plan for 2023 and beyond, now may be the perfect time to explore if your organization is ready to begin embracing EVs.

Emily Graham is director of sustainability
at Holman.

Determining the best way to integrate EVs into your fleet can challenge even the most seasoned fleet professional. With more EV/hybrid models becoming available along with a variety of charging options – at-home charging, centralized charging depots, and public infrastructure – determining the best solution for your fleet and developing a “best practice” strategy can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.

Key planning considerations
As you explore potential fleet electrification, you’ll want to work closely with stakeholders from across the organization – procurement, sustainability, operations, facilities, HR, and so on – to identify overarching sustainability goals and determine how your fleet emissions align with those objectives. It’s vital that you begin your EV journey with clear objectives.

Once you know the need and business purpose for transitioning to EVs, you can begin to determine the steps to achieve those goals over the next five to 10 years. Remember, this transition won’t happen overnight, so plan for a gradual transition over multiple vehicle lifecycles.

Keep in mind that integrating EVs into your fleet mix is a bit more complex than simply determining which model is the best fit. Equally important is focusing on infrastructure, driver behaviour, power needs, charging location(s), charge data management, et cetera. A thorough analysis of your fleet’s profile and performance will allow for the most seamless transition. During an initial consultation with customers, we often help them think through the right vehicle application, the region in which they operate, driver fit, and the role these units play in supporting the business to develop a path to fleet electrification.

EV charging
When your organization is ready to begin integrating electric vehicles into your fleet mix, you’ll need to develop a charging strategy that aligns with your business objectives. Your charging strategy is just as important – if not more so – as spec’ing and ordering the EVs themselves. You’ll need your solution in place before your first electric vehicles arrive.

Today, there are three primary types of charging solutions: at-home, depot, and public. Most fleet operators are likely to implement a charging strategy that relies on all three options to varying extents but there are several key considerations that will influence your approach including:

  • Are you prepared to install chargers at drivers’ homes where suitable?
  • What is your ability to install depot charging at your facilities?
  • What local infrastructure exists to support your fleet’s public charging needs?

These are just a few of the factors that will begin to shape your EV charging strategy. Let’s take
a closer look at each of these charging solutions.

If your fleet includes a large number of passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, crossovers, and so on), in all likelihood, your drivers are taking these units home with them at the end of the day rather than returning them to a central hub. In this scenario, at-home charging is likely going to be your best option.

This option works best for drivers who have a designated parking area (garage or driveway) and whose home can accommodate the installation of the charging equipment. It’s the most efficient option, allowing the unit to charge during off hours and eliminating unnecessary charging downtime. It also typically provides the most cost-effective charging method (lowest cost per kilowatt-hour), where in terms of the charging device itself, there are a variety of options including Level 1 (standard AC 110/120 home outlet) and Level 2 (AC 220/240, same as an electric range or dryer outlet) chargers to accommodate most scenarios. Most fleet operators opt for a smart charger that monitors usage, consumption, energy cost, and so on to integrate this charging information with the rest of their fleet data. This data also allows you to track and reimburse drivers for at-home energy use.

In a typical vocational fleet, the vehicles (class 3-8 GVW) often return to a centralized hub at the end of the workday. In this scenario, most organizations benefit from a depot charging solution.

An onsite charging depot is relatively cost effective long-term and provides the convenience of charging at your facility, ensuring vehicles can recharge after a day’s use and will be ready to hit the road again the next day. However, there’s a great deal of pre-planning and ongoing management associated with an EV charging depot, and it typically involves several stakeholders. Other factors to consider include:

  • Requires significant planning and collaboration with your operations and property management teams for location assessment, energy capacity review and infrastructure development.
  • Engage local utility and/or third-party energy providers to plan power load requirements and explore potential electricity cost hedging.
  • Depot should include a mix of Level 2 and Level 3 chargers.
  • Level 3 (or DC fast chargers) can power a vehicle to approximately 80 per cent capacity in about 30 minutes, ideal for fleet operations that do not allow much downtime for charging but can result in significantly higher cost to charge.
  • Design the charging depot to be easily scalable to accommodate long-term EV growth.

You’ll need to develop a charging strategy that coordinates vehicle downtime and schedules charging for off-peak hours (as much as possible) to minimize energy costs. You’ll also want to ensure you have a comprehensive charge management platform in place to monitor vehicle usage, charging duration, energy consumption, electricity rates, et cetera. This data provides the visibility necessary to optimize vehicle and depot performance and effectively contain energy costs.

While the public charging infrastructure throughout North America continues to expand, you cannot rely on public EV charging as your fleet’s primary charging solution. In fact, if neither at-home nor depot charging options work for your fleet, we recommend delaying EV implementation in that area and explore other alternative fuel solutions to increase fleet sustainability.

The only scenario in which a fleet vehicle should utilize public charging is when the unit needs just enough energy to make it to an at-home or depot charging station for a full recharge. For the most part, public charging units are:

  • Too hard to find;
  • Often unreliable (broken equipment, connection failures, payment challenges, et cetera);
  • Too long to charge at – most public chargers are Level 2 units which need several hours to fully recharge a vehicle’s battery; and
  • Too expensive; public charging rates can cost three times as much as at-home or depot charging.

That said, while public charging can help in a pinch, there are far too many obstacles to have public infrastructure be the foundation of a viable electrification program.

Ready to embrace EVs?
While the transition to electric vehicles won’t happen overnight, it’s clear that many businesses
are ready to embrace EVs.

As a growing number of OEMs introduce electric versions of popular truck and van models, the transition for vocational fleets will continue to become easier over time.

The good news is that you don’t need to wait to start your transition to electric vehicles. We often recommend a phased approach to fleet electrification, assessing factors such as vehicle type, role within your business, utilization, charging options, and so on to determine the segment of your fleet best suited
to lead your transition. Then, you can build on your initial success, gain additional insight and understanding, and apply this EV knowledge to other areas or applications within your fleet.

And you don’t have to navigate this road alone; we’re here to help. There are a variety of partners and resources available to help simplify electrification projects. With the right strategic partnerships, you can streamline vehicle acquisition, infrastructure development, and charge management to make integrating EVs into your daily business operations virtually seamless.