What will it take to implement electric fleets in urban areas?


In cities across North America, fleets comprised of electric vehicles make a lot of sense. Reducing fuel costs and emissions is a big goal of the trucking industry. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for adopting electric vehicles (EV) into your fleet. It depends on your business’ unique needs and capabilities.

The Pembina Institute recently released a publication outlining key tips to deploy battery-electric urban delivery vehicles. In this Schooley Mitchell blog, we take a look at some of The Pembina Institute’s findings, and give you the run down on EV adoption.

Why make the switch?

Studies have shown that, in urban areas, EVs are relatively easy to charge, cost-effective, and reduce emissions significantly in comparison to traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. For freight companies worried about the practicality of switching from ICE vehicles to EVs, the process may be less daunting than you think.

The Pembina Institute’s research found:

  • All electric cargo van models currently available, as well as new models under production, are expected to satisfy the energy demands of urban delivery companies — even under the most energy-demanding scenarios.
  • EVs are expected to result in considerable fuel savings over the course of a year, ranging on average from CAD$3,800 to $4,400 per vehicle (or approximately USD $3,090 to $3,578 per vehicle).
  • The switch to electric would result in an annual reduction of 12 tonnes CO2e per vehicle – equivalent to taking 2.6 passenger cars off the road for one year.

The incentives to adopt electric vehicles are clear; but adoption and deployment is easier said than done.

Electric vehicles are expected to result in considerable fuel savings over the course of a year, ranging from $3,800 to $4,400 per vehicle.

An action plan for EV adoption.

Part of the Pembina Institute’s findings on EV adoption and deployment in urban areas included a twenty step action plan. Specifically, the plan targets battery-electric urban delivery vehicles (medium-duty, class 2b-3) with on-site depot charging.

Here are some of the best takeaways from that action plan:

Start early.

Begin the implementation planning stage as soon as possible. It can take over a year to install charging infrastructure and secure the vehicles you need. There is a supply and demand imbalance in the industry, and you could find yourself waiting on your selected vehicle model.

Understanding your needs.

Before you make any decisions, you need to have a plan that takes all your needs into account. In understanding your needs the Pembina Institute has a number of recommended steps.

As the data above suggests, there is a great cost reduction and environmental incentive to making the switch to an electric fleet. Of course, these are just averages, and your business is unique.

“Developing a business case that is specific to your needs is important. Costs and benefits will vary depending on fleet size, vehicle model selection, charging schedule, the power of the charging infrastructure, and the electricity pricing scheme, among other factor.” The Pembina Institute said.

During this process, take an inventory of your current fleet and assess its operations. You may be able to optimize the number of vehicles you need to best serve your operational needs, meaning a replacement ratio of 1:1 is not always necessary. Downsizing your fleet is a great opportunity  to reduce costs.

Your business case should include the minimum requirements for the EVs that you would like to purchase. Some considerations include:

  • Vehicle type/model
  • Gross vehicle weight rating
  • Charging capabilities
  • Range
  • Climate control, such as cabin heating or cooling
  • Transmission type
  • Auxiliary electrical systems, such as automated doors or power lifts
  • Other auxiliary accessories, such as tire pressure monitoring

Explore what’s available on the market.

Once you know what you need, explore what you can reasonably find.

Currently, there are three main options for fleets looking to go electric:

  • Retrofitting existing diesel or gas-powered vehicles
  • Procuring EV models currently available on the market
  • Working with companies to create a custom solution

Depending on your business needs and budget are, one solution may work best for you.

Develop a phasing plan.

You don’t need to jump in all at once. It’s possible to phase in EVs slowly and decide if they are a right fit for your fleet. Methods include:

  • Trialing a vehicle from a manufacturer — some EV manufacturers are willing to work with prospective customers on a trial basis.
  • Launch a pilot period — consider starting with a smaller number of EVs to begin with for a pilot period, so you can monitor their performance in comparison with your traditional fleet.

Assess your facilities.

Charging infrastructure is important, and taking a look at what your facilities can support is crucial.

Based on operational needs and distances driven, charging strategies look different from fleet to fleet. Determining how often you will need to charge, how many charging stations you will require per vehicle, and your charging speed requirements will all make an impact on your electrification process.

The Pembina Institute recommends looking into smart charging.

“Smart charging can help you better manage your energy use and electricity costs. Smart charging enables remote management of chargers, allowing fleet operators to turn chargers off entirely or adjust the rate of charging in response to grid conditions. By minimizing the use of chargers during peak periods, for instance, fleets can save on electricity costs,” it said.

You may be eligible for funding.

Many governments take carbon emission reductions seriously, and will give funding and grants to fleets looking to go electric. Look into municipal, state/provincial, and federal opportunities to subsidize the cost of making the switch.

In conclusion…

These are just some of the Pembina Institutes thoroughly helpful action plan steps for fleet electrification. For more information, you can read the press release, here.

The combination of convenience, expense reduction, and environmental benefits mean that electric vehicles are likely the future of urban freight. Implementation is simply the hurdle in the way of realizing the possibilities.

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