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New Collaborative Initiative Develops Tools and Resources to Facilitate Fleet Electrification

Posted to EPRI in the Utility Management Group
Robert Chapman's picture
Senior Vice President, Energy Delivery & Customer Solutions , EPRI

Rob Chapman is Senior Vice President of Energy Delivery and Customer Solutions, at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). He provides executive oversight for EPRI’s broad portfolio of...

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  • Aug 25, 2020
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Communities around the world are embracing decarbonization goals to improve air quality and address climate change. Recognizing the importance of transportation electrification in reaching these goals, EPRI has launched a two-year, $5-million Fleet Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Initiative to develop the tools and resources needed for rapid expansion of fleet charging infrastructure. A new working group on EPRI’s Board of Directors is providing strategic guidance to EPRI regarding the initiative.

The initiative builds on EPRI’s comprehensive Electric Transportation program, which has more than three decades of research experience. It is augmented by EPRI’s Infrastructure Working Council and Bus and Truck Working Council. These public councils bring together utilities, electric vehicle manufacturers, charging station companies, and other stakeholders to identify and address challenges inhibiting large-scale deployment of electric transportation, with the former focused on light-duty vehicles and the latter on heavy-duty vehicles.

“Transportation offers an important opportunity for decarbonization because it has a significant carbon footprint, and the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles is near parity with vehicles powered by internal combustion engines,” said Rob Chapman, EPRI’s vice president of electrification and sustainable energy strategy. “However, internal combustion vehicles remain appealing to many customers, pointing to a critical need to address barriers to adoption of electric transportation.”

Charging a bus, truck, or van fleet can present logistical and technical challenges. Consider a municipality or delivery company that needs 1,000 vehicles charged overnight and ready for daily routes by morning. “You need a significant amount of power at a centralized location, but only at night,” said Chapman. “It might be the equivalent of a large industrial load like a steel manufacturer. But while a steel manufacturer may operate continually 24-7, the charging station consumes most of its power at night. Without adequate tools, a utility may be asked to build a great deal of infrastructure that is used for relatively few hours per day.”

In many cases, utility investments in new substations, upgraded power lines, and other grid infrastructure may be needed to enable fleet charging. But if those costs get passed on to fleet operators, it can make the cost of electrification prohibitive. Before a company invests in an electric fleet, it would need to know the infrastructure needs and associated costs.

“EPRI is examining ways to enable affordable charging infrastructure for utility customers that want to electrify their fleets, while efficiently using grid resources to serve fleet needs,” said Chapman.

The Fleet Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Initiative has three focus areas:

1. Utility customer planning tools: Utilities need information about a proposed fleet’s power needs and timing of charging to determine necessary grid upgrades and opportunities to support grid operations and planning. To make informed decisions about where to locate charging stations, fleet operators need to know the cost and time required for those upgrades.

EPRI recently completed a prototype tool to calculate a fleet’s potential grid infrastructure needs. Historically, fleet feasibility studies have sometimes over-estimated these costs due to a lack of supporting information and a limited understanding of the fleet’s expected load. EPRI designed the tool to assess loads more precisely. The user inputs the type and number of vehicles in the fleet, battery sizes, daily route distances, and the number and power level of the chargers. Based on these inputs, the tool calculates the total number of charging hours required each day, peak power consumption, and total electricity use—outputs that help utilities more accurately evaluate grid infrastructure costs. In May, EPRI demonstrated the tool’s features and its potential practicality for utilities and fleet operators. The next step is to develop a beta-version that utilities can test with their customers. Long term, EPRI may add new features such as calculating fleet charging rates.

 

2. Interoperability: Widespread deployment of fleet charging infrastructure requires interoperable equipment. For example, if a charging equipment provider goes out of business and its technology is not interoperable with other equipment, fleet operators end up with obsolete assets. EPRI is collaborating with utilities and other stakeholders to support interoperability across charging hardware, charge management systems, and communication networks.

“The idea is that any brand of electric bus will work with any brand of compatible charger right out of the box,” said John Halliwell, an EPRI technical executive and expert on EV charging infrastructure. “Our initial focus is identifying gaps and challenges related to interoperability. These include application of standards and development of testing protocols needed for standards compliance.”

 

3. Resiliency: Whether it’s tornados in the Midwest or hurricanes in Florida, severe weather has the potential to disrupt fleet charging. After events like these, packages still need to be delivered, and bus drivers need to pick up passengers. To prevent interruptions of operations, electric fleets require robust resiliency strategies. For example, a dramatic increase in the number of charging facilities in a region could result in more distribution circuits, pointing to the importance of careful circuit design. Another important consideration is backup power. While some fleet owners may install diesel generators for backup power at charging stations, solar-powered backup energy storage could offer a more reliable, less polluting option. EPRI expects to develop resiliency planning guidelines that account for regional differences.

 

EPRI
Founded in 1972, EPRI is the world's preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, with offices around the world.
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 25, 2020

Whether it’s tornados in the Midwest or hurricanes in Florida, severe weather has the potential to disrupt fleet charging. After events like these, packages still need to be delivered, and bus drivers need to pick up passengers.

Is there a way to quantify this risk compared with the existing risk of fuel supply interruptions from the same types of extreme weather events? I definitely remember some issues on gas/oil pipelines getting interrupted in the Southeast post hurricanes in some recent years-- but is that more of a rare occurrence than would be experienced with a wider electric fleet? 

Robert Chapman's picture
Thank Robert for the Post!
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