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Electrifying a final mile fleet is a journey

To electrify a final mile fleet is an arduous trek that involves crossing four mountains.

That’s how Theresa Cooke, Siemens head of global customer success – managed charging explained it at the EV & Charging Expo in Toronto May 18. The first of those peaks to traverse is Mount Vehicle, she said, where the sun is shining and the weather is good.

“Total cost of ownership is coming down, production capacity is getting there. People are getting into these vehicles and they’re excited,” she said of electric vehicles available today.

mountains
Electrifying your fleet? The journey will include several mountains. (Photo: istock)

Next up, however, is Mount Infrastructure, where grey clouds continue to linger. Here, long lead times are required for electrical equipment and connecting to the grid can take 12 to 18 months. Sites must be designed, electrical loads projected, and yards and charging stations laid out and installed.

Once that peak is traversed comes Mount Software. Few have made it this far in the journey. This involves vehicle telematics, energy management software, getting fleet vehicles and facilities onto a single platform, and developing a data management strategy.

The fourth and final mountain standing in the way of the beach, Cooke said, is Mount Operations. The right vehicles will need to be deployed on the right routes with the right charge. Charging costs will have to be optimized by taking advantage of off-peak times. Duty cycles will need to be perfected.

Planning for electrification

Gabriela Favaron, director electric vehicle infrastructure with 7Gen, said that as with a long hike, preparation is required to be successful. Planning includes three main elements, she explained: defining a location; fleet operations; and an electrical needs assessment.

Fleets already know the vehicles, duty cycles, and payload, Favaron said. “Where it gets trickier is at the facility level. We need to start thinking about where we’re going to be charging these [vehicles].”

This means working with landlords for leased facilities, or utilities and government for owned terminals. An understanding of the actual power distribution system is also required, and how all equipment from delivery vehicles to forklifts will fit.

“Walk through the site with people who understand all these items,” she advised.

Planning for the building

One of those people is Mark Marmer, founder of Signature Electric. “In a perfect world, you’ll have two years to plan, with a new building,” he said. Most frequently, however, he’s working with older buildings that weren’t designed to provide power to a fleet of vehicles.

For older sites, delays can be caused by everything from asbestos in the walls, to contaminated soil. “All these little things delay the job,” he noted.

Bringing in a team of experts who have learned experience equipping companies to power electric vehicles is key, as they’ve likely already encountered challenges most people wouldn’t think about. For example, how rugged are the retractors on the chargers themselves?

“When you have 15 truck drivers pulling on them 10 times a day, some get broken,” he noted.

Favaron said a common mistake is to order electric vehicles before the charging piece has been figured out and completed.

“Start your charging strategy before you have the vehicles,” she advised. “You want to make sure your operations are not going to be compromised.”

Supply chain delays

Prepare for delays, speakers on the panel agreed. Supply chain issues affecting vehicle deliveries are also being experienced when it comes to ordering electrical hardware. Delays will also be unavoidable if infrastructure outside the facility’s walls needs to be upgraded, added Marmer.

“This becomes out of your hands. Anything on your side of the meter you might be able to manage. Once you need to change the service, now it’s in the hands of your local utility,” he warned, adding that could cause delays of 12-18 months.

Cooke agreed, noting utilities work in a highly regulated environment. She’d like to see government give utilities more flexibility so they can get infrastructure upgrades done faster. Such delays also mean the time to electrify your fleet and facilities is now, not down the road closer to 2030 when it may be required.

“The most important aspect for fleets to start right now is to be ahead,” said Favaron. “Be ready in 2030. Let’s not arrive there when there are mandates, let’s be ahead of it and be strategically planning for the future.”

“If I’m a fleet today, it’s a competitive strategic advantage,” agreed Cooke. “Do you want to be left behind? It’s also the right thing to do. Noise pollution and air pollution affects the most vulnerable in our society…We have a generational economic opportunity. If we don’t [take advantage] then we are squandering that economic opportunity and leaving an outdated and polluting transportation system to our children.”

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