Contributed by Melvin Irizarry, product marketing manager, Sitetracker
Judging by recent headlines, the electric vehicle revolution has stalled.
Apparently fleet owners – among them FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, Amazon, and Republic Services – have yet to get the memo. For reasons as diverse as reduced long-term fuel and maintenance costs, the pursuit of carbon-reduction goals, and improved brand image, don’t expect them to read it anytime soon. Yet there are challenges for fleets going electric, ranging from supply chain constraints (UPS’s travails being a case in point) to, most prominently, the need for charging infrastructure.
Fleets have some advantages when it comes to the EV transition. Unlike consumers prone to confuse unlikely possibilities (“What if we decide to drive to Alaska?”) with concrete needs, fleet owners have a precise understanding of duty cycles, routes, miles driven, delivery timing, and associated costs and revenues. That translates into level-headed EV vehicle buys that match vehicle counts, their range, and the development of charging infrastructure to match evolving needs.
“Evolving” is key here. The transition from gasoline and diesel to electric is a decadal proposition, perhaps longer, for the vast bulk of fleet owners. They have to keep their day-to-day operations running during the transition. They’ve poured a lot of capital into internal combustion vehicles. Commercial-vehicle EV production lags while EV technology is progressing faster than anyone can keep up with. And, yes, they must build out their charging infrastructure. Software can help with all this, but first, fleet owners must plan wisely.
Key questions fleet leaders should ask about EVs
Some of the key questions in that planning process have to do with the vehicles. Based on capital availability, government EV incentives, and total cost of ownership estimates, how many can a fleet afford? How many does it want to be delivered – and how many vehicles can suppliers actually deliver – and when?
EV fleet management is another important topic. To minimize costs and maximize efficiency, when, where, and how fast should charging happen? How may that change as the fleet transitions from liquid fuels over time?
Those answers then inform charging infrastructure needs. What level of chargers do you need? While going for Level 3 fast charging and leaving the door open for megawatt charging might appeal in a world without constraints, fleets don’t typically live there. Can you get by charging overnight using mostly Level 2 chargers augmented with a small number of faster Level 3 chargers for topping off certain vehicles at certain times? What do you actually need to keep operations running smoothly while minimizing costs? Those answers then lead to power needs.
Fleet owner-operators making the EV transition stress the importance of bringing in the utility as early in the planning process as possible. The utility’s constraints and the timing of its ability to overcome them will play directly into what charging infrastructure you can turn on over time. Not to mention, every utility is unique, so knowing their processes, permits, etc. as early on as possible is critical to a smooth transition.
Note that, while rural EV charging presents different challenges for fleets and others, the questions are the same – even if the answers will differ based on utility infrastructure, the availability of contractors, the EV infrastructure-related savvy of local governments, and the distances involved in a fleet’s service area.
Software tools for EV fleet planning and rollout
So, what tools can help fleets plan and build out their charging infrastructure? A fleet with a single depot can be managed with standard project management software. Larger fleets with multiple charging hubs are turning to deployment operations management systems.
These cloud-based systems, widely used by commercial EV charging firms, also help fleet owner-operators and their contractors plan and manage dozens or hundreds of job sites, assets, and crews in real time as they combine the strengths of project, asset, and work management software. These systems sharpen the planning and development phase, speed up construction and implementation timelines, manage ongoing maintenance, and streamline vendor and labor management.
In planning, these systems manage site candidates, approvals, and drawings. Further down the line, they match deployment assets with job sites to ensure that equipment is where it needs to be when it needs to be there, and that permits and utility interconnections are ready to go. In implementation, deployment operations management systems include standardized project templates, automated document generation, and mobile forms to make life easier for construction crews and managers, digitizing work while providing real-time visibility throughout every step of the process. While every project has unique aspects (and these systems are customizable to reflect that), standardization along best practices cuts redundancy, avoids mistakes, and speeds the pace of work.
On the maintenance end, deployment operations management systems can determine the equipment and the technicians best suited to do a particular repair or upgrade and how that job should be prioritized. The system can then standardize frequent job processes to make sure work is done well, done fast, and done right the first time.
Finally, these systems bring contractors into the fold, enabling collaboration on project schedules, job information and images, site maps, and history. This leads to faster deployments at a lower cost. These standardized processes also embed industry and organizational knowledge into workflows that empower less-experienced staff to perform at higher levels and with less supervision and training.
Along the way, deployment operations management systems keep tabs on project finances and provide quick access to status and documentation needed for incentive-related compliance purposes.
Fleets are going electric. It’s going to take time, but now is the time to start. With solid planning, early outreach to utilities, and the right software, owner-operators, their customers, and the environment will benefit.