News Article

A Utility’s Perspective: Planning, Deployment and Lessons Learned for Medium- & Heavy-Duty Vehicle Electrification

October 23, 2020
By Jonathan Susser

It’s an exciting time for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles (EVs) in the Southeast. To name just a few developments, North Carolina will be receiving new electric transit and school buses through the Volkswagen Settlement; South Carolina was recently chosen by vehicle manufacturer Arrival to house its first U.S. “microfactory”; and in Virginia, Dominion Energy’s electric school bus pilot is getting underway.

The third and final webinar in our three-part series with North Carolina’s Clean Cities Coalitions featured Duke Energy’s Mike Rowand, director of technology development, and Jim Poch, electric transportation manager for South Carolina. Using lessons learned from across Duke’s service territories, the two discussed factors that need to be considered when planning for and deploying these larger EVs.

Infrastructure Considerations for Fleet Electrification

Medium- and heavy-duty EVs — covering a variety of shapes, sizes, duty cycles and use cases — are coming, and fleet turnover can happen quickly. Daimler, Tesla, New Flyer, Mack Trucks, Proterra, Lion Electric, Rivian and Arrival are just some of the manufacturers developing these vehicles, and big industry players, from Amazon to UPS, are noticing. But planning for the arrival of this technology — larger vehicles that can require substantial amounts of power — calls for a novel approach to fleet management.

Compared to light-duty EVs, which charge at a maximum of 350 kilowatts (and even that’s rare), medium- and heavy-duty EVs, such as semitrucks, are being tested at rates exceeding 1 megawatt. Known as extreme high-power DC fast charging, this power draw is equivalent to a high-rise building or retail mega-center. In other words, just one or two trucks charging simultaneously could have comparable electricity demand to a 40- or 50-story building.

With this in mind, Rowand explained, charging concerns for medium- and heavy-duty EVs go well beyond just the charging station. Other areas that must be evaluated include the facility electrical infrastructure (internal switchgear and transformers, conduit, conductors, etc.), utility service infrastructure (substations, transformers, line capacity, etc.), and distributed energy resources (renewable energy, battery storage, resiliency needs, etc.).

This landscape of evaluating EVs differs from that of traditional liquid-fueled vehicles. For the latter, vehicle specification and acquisition, fuel purchasing and commodity risk management, and facility engineering and planning can all be pursued independently. With EVs, they’re interconnected and interdependent.

The vehicle being explored can influence facility needs, which can influence electricity rates, which can, in turn, influence vehicle selection. All of this is baked into usual considerations of total cost of ownership and site operations, and facilities need to ensure that what they do today is future-proofed as the technology develops. There will be a learning curve for navigating how these pieces fit together, and it will be critical to educate and simplify the picture as much as possible.

Rowand closed his presentation by sharing Edison Electric Institute’s 10 things to consider when looking to plug in your fleet:

  1. Engage with Your Electric Utility Early and Often
  2. Choose the Right Use Cases to Minimize Costs
  3. Electricity Is Delivered in Real Time
  4. Electric Cost Depends on How Charging Is Done
  5. Work with Electric Utility to Get Your Facility Ready
  6. Plan Charging Strategy Before Buying the EV
  7. Align Charging Solution with Needs
  8. EV Fleets Require Cooperation Between Fleet and Facilities Personnel
  9. Electricity as a Fuel Means Thinking About Fuel Availability in New Ways
  10. EV Fleet Operators Have Multiple Options to Manage Costs

Fleet Electrification Lessons Learned

Ideally, medium- and heavy-duty EV deployments go smoothly. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. In his section of the webinar, Poch discussed lessons learned from prior EV implementations to help outline what to plan for and what to avoid before taking the plunge.

Charge Management

Charge management is one of the most critical considerations for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification. (We heard variations on this same recommendation in our previous webinars.)

Adding one or two EVs can typically be accomplished with minimal impact to operations, but getting into higher vehicle counts can produce issues. The type and generation of vehicle, its route, its payload and even how it is driven can all affect charging needs, and vehicles will return to their depot at different states of charge.

Standards vs. Interoperability

Open standards help ensure that customers don’t get stuck as vendors change. But even if technologies seem to meet the same standards, they may not be compatible. Therefore, it is important to get assurances about what may or may not work with a given system or piece of equipment.

Range Anxiety

Although range anxiety is typically discussed in the context of consumers, it can be felt by fleet managers as well. Be conservative when matching a vehicle’s expected range to your needs. Road, weather and driving conditions can all sap driving distance, and your operational demands may also change over time.

Correct Rates

Electric utility rates can be complicated. Check with your utility often to make sure you start with the most appropriate rate for your operation. Beginning the process early will ensure you see the savings you expect.

Summary

Poch boiled down his message into a brief summary. When pursuing medium- and heavy-duty EVs, jump in, but look and plan first. The transition is a learning process, so don’t expect magic to happen instantly, and what will work for your organization may not be what worked for others. Having vendors you trust and engaging your utility early and often are essential to ensuring the process goes well.

Wrapping Up

We hope you enjoyed and learned from our webinar series on medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification. If you missed the first two webinars, you can read recaps and watch recordings here: Electric Transit and School Bus Initiatives in the Southeast, Purchasing and Policy Considerations of Electric Vehicles for Organizations, Fleets and Municipalities.

We want to thank all of the presenters for sharing their time and expertise and give a special shoutout to North Carolina’s three Clean Cities Coalitions for collaborating with us to organize and deliver the series.