The charging challenge

From the June 2024 print edition

No matter where along their sustainability journey Canadian fleets are, they must all deal with electrification eventually.

Canadian legislation is turning up the heat on vehicle emissions. The Electric Vehicle Availability Standard kicks in for the 2026 model year and requires at least 20 per cent of new light-duty vehicles for sale be zero-emission vehicles. That hits 60 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035. Bringing fleets in line involve where and how to charge vehicles.

Use cases
Fleets managers must study their fleet needs, says Jay Collins, senior vice-president of EV & Mobility at Wex, a charging payment solutions company. “The right use case, the right vehicle for that use case, and then the right charging strategy for that vehicle gets a good EV experience,” Collins says. “If you get one of those wrong, it can set you off in the wrong direction.”

Consider where a vehicle sits idle, which decides where it will charge, Collins notes. A sales rep driving a few hundred kilometres a day and returning home nightly is a good case for an EV. The charging rate is residential, and the vehicle won’t push range boundaries.

Fleets can choose between charging EVs “behind the fence,” using private infrastructure like a place of business or employee’s home, and “outside the fence,” meaning public charging infrastructure. Collins estimates that, going forward, 15 to 20 per cent of charging will be on route.

“All of our fleet managers have different situations,” Collins says. “That’s where the use case really determines the charging strategy. Some use cases could be, ‘we need more self-chargers at the office.’ In other cases, it’s, ‘we could install a charger at an employee’s home.’”

While behind-the-fence charging is most popular, vehicles may still need to charge on the road or at an employee’s home, says Blake Jessen, vice-president of North America at Driivz, an EV charging management software solution. Charg­­­ing gets more complex once there’s a mix of use cases.
Navigating that is a main challenges to ensuring a reliable charge, Jessen says. Two potential paths for fleet managers include a single-vendor option in which a vendor provides everything, or an open, interoperable system.

“The open interoperable route provides you far more options, in terms of, ‘I want to take best-in-class software, I’m going to take best-in-class hardware, I could have multiple hardware partners for my specific application,” Jessen says. “I can really create a robust network of options that, if one fails, plug in a new one. The trend that we’re seeing is moving towards an open, interoperable, best-in-class, type.”

Public charging
There was once little talk of fleets charging EVs at public charging stations, according to Simon Ouellette, CEO and co-founder of ChargeHub, a Montreal-based company with a platform that aggregates public EV charging stations. Ouellette made the comments during a presentation at the EV & Charging Expo, held in Toronto in May. But the first EV mandates will kick in soon, he added. Fleet managers must start planning now.

Yet the public charging arena includes over 100 public charging networks and 200,000 individual public chargers. That will continue to grow, he said, making tpublic charging more complex. “You have to know what you’re dealing with,” Ouellette said. “It’s a highly fragmented ecosystem.”
Even fleets using home charging will likely need to engage in some public charging, Ouellette said.

Yet this fragmented ecosystem adds complexity. “Different fleets will have different plans and the actual needs are going to vary,” he said.

That means, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Medium heavy-duty vehicles charging mostly at a depot, but that sometimes need public charging, is a different use case than car-sharing vehicles in a downtown, or a car-rental company at an airport.

Using solely a fuel card to deal with public charging won’t be enough, Ouellette said. The trend is towards phone-based payments, or other methods that provide another layer of authentication, but are backed by a credit card to deter fraud.

Fleet managers must consider integrating into the public charging process, Ouellette recommended. Legal agreements, accounting issues, and driver support were among the areas he encouraged fleet managers to consider. “This is an early ecosystem,” he noted. “Sorry to say, there’ll be issues if your drivers are charging on public chargers, at least for the next few years.”

Consider timeline, Ouellette said. When a fleet will implement EVs, at what rate, and what level, affects charging. At above five per cent EV adoption is a good time to consider more automated and custom tools to manage charging, he recommended. Also consider the level of control and detail over charging you need. Some fleets may need to record the time, place, date, and driver for each charge. Others may only need to reconcile each charge with other fuelling expenses. “That’s going to change what you’re going to need as a solution,” he said.

Ouellette recommended a centralized approach, so fleets connect to a central hub that deals with fragmentation. Or a solutions provider can deal with centralizing charges. “It’s still an early start to fleets and public charging,” he says. “But right now, that’s the approach that entities who are successfully doing this are taking.”