The electrification market is constantly shifting, changing to meet the needs of consumers, conform to regulatory requirements and address environmental concerns. For organizations looking to transition their fleet to electric vehicles (EVs), it’s important to understand where the market is heading and what factors are at play.

Investment dollars are flowing to medium-duty EVs, creating charging infrastructure demand for organizations to effectively convert to this type of EV. Such “first mile, last mile” vehicles, consisting of vans and trucks in the 10,000- to 26,000-pound weight range, are finding more uses in the growing home delivery market that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Market drivers for medium-duty EVs are supported by an expected range of 150+ miles among several legacy and emerging manufacturers like Ford, Rivian, Workhorse and Chanje. From an operations perspective, last-mile medium-duty EV duty cycles are somewhat analogous to those of school buses, operating during the day and charging at central depots or warehouse yards overnight. This means that the required charging infrastructure for successful fleet conversion is more akin to light EV charging needs, with lower power AC chargers that are typically less expensive and impactful to grid resources than DC fast chargers. Finally, vehicle acquisition is less costly than for heavy-duty EVs, making replacement of existing fleets much more compelling.

For organizations wishing to make the transition to EVs for a portion of or an entire fleet, effectively designing, constructing and implementing the necessary infrastructure requires the consideration of several factors.

Technology

Perhaps the most important technology function is interoperability – meaning that all individual pieces of the necessary network infrastructure, hardware, software and vehicles themselves must be compatible. An assessment of this interoperability between the vehicle, the charger and the network should be included in a conversion plan to see that connectivity can be reliably maintained.

When it comes to choosing the most effective equipment, operators must carefully plan to avoid stranded assets, or equipment that is either no longer supported by original equipment manufacturers or is beyond update or repair. Phasing-in your technology can be one approach to reduce such risks, as organizations will typically not replace an entire fleet at one time.

Finally, organizations must avoid overinvesting in technology that goes beyond the needs of the fleet. Understanding the available technologies and the charging profile of the selected EVs allows organizations to effectively allocate investment dollars to select the most effective charging infrastructure.

Siting

Knowing where to put the selected charging equipment is imperative in creating an effective charging system.

All sites and organizations will have different criteria for siting. In an indoor warehouse setting, for instance, the siting of chargers needs to be specific to the operations of the facility. One factor is seeing that the actual circulation of the EVs themselves is not interrupted and that they can be properly positioned to the charger in relation to the vehicle’s charging port. Because charging ports can be located on the front, back, left or right of the EV, knowing the selected vehicle’s specifications will also inform siting.

Perhaps the most important factor is siting equipment in proximity to its power source. This will help reduce the length of trenching and conduit pathways, as well as avoid conflicts with overhead or underground utility lines. Secondly, the connectivity of chargers is critical to its uptime as an energy resource. Therefore, measurement of the quality and strength of the cell or Wi-Fi signal is important when confirming siting location to avoid potential issues.

Funding

There are various sources of funding available for electrification projects. Federal government incentives and state government programs offer various sources, and local utilities may have generous programs that even fund infrastructure for a large portion on the customer-side-of-meter. Additionally, as projects rise in complexity and scale, the value of public-private partnerships should be considered as another means to overcome initial funding barriers.

To secure adequate project funding, organizations must develop a holistic plan for both the fleet conversion and implementation of electrification infrastructure to support it. Having this in place will provide the needed timing, sequencing and amount of external funding required when those sources become available. Often, funding sources become oversubscribed quickly. Armed with a holistic plan, an organization can be better prepared to submit a project for consideration.

Jump-Starting Projects

With California Air Resources Board mandates and associated deadlines approaching fast, there is a real concern right now throughout the industry that projects aren’t picking up the needed momentum to meet deadlines. Fortunately, design-build is a project delivery model that can compress schedules and offer wide-ranging value to the owner.

For multisite or multiproject areas, a design-builder brings the ability to consolidate purchases, standardize designs, value engineer for quality and drive economies of scale. These and other benefits provide greater control over the timeline and cost, offering compelling value to an organization.

Through a focus on key variables at play in a fleet conversion, and avoiding potential pitfalls of charging infrastructure undertakings — design-build presents opportunities not only to effectively future-proof charging infrastructure but also to optimize operations reliably for many years of consistent service.

 

Design-build delivery offers a framework for scaling EV infrastructure in a cost-effective, fast way to meet the challenges of the ever-changing electrification market.

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Damon Aldrich is a project manager at Burns & McDonnell. With background in light-, medium- and heavy-duty transportation electrification projects across utility, municipal and vehicle OEM market segments, he leads EV infrastructure deployment throughout California. He has overseen EV charger installation, procurement and customer technical support throughout a career spanning nearly 20 years.