Posted in GreenBiz
January 18, 2022

Get it together or keep it apart: Fleet charging and building management

There is a great deal of enthusiasm for organizations to add EVs to their fleet — and not just the large fleets managed by national package delivery organizations.

Smaller commercial and municipal organizations also have significant interest in commercial EVs, including commercial versions of passenger vehicles and custom-built vehicles such as delivery vans, school buses and garbage trucks.

There is more to operating a fleet with EVs than ordering them from the local car dealership and charging them at the fleet location overnight. New technology is reducing charging times; however, if commercial EV drivers are obligated to use public charging stations these hours represent time paid to sit idle. The only sensible alternative is to build onsite charging stations that is integrated with the building’s energy management system (BEM). Owning fleets of even a few EVs requires senior management be prepared to make critical tradeoffs and decisions before the organization drives its first EV off the dealer’s lot.

Management must consider fleet EV charging infrastructure issues

Experience shows most drivers adapt relatively quickly to driving EVs. The procedures for charging at the fleet facility are much more complex. Management needs to consider all the possibilities upfront and then change policies on an ongoing basis. Some issues include:

  • Managing the charging: Should each EV be charged nightly after use to keep it topped off or should vehicles be rotated every few days at fewer, but faster, charging ports?
  • Charging technology: The ideal would be to standardize on a single charging technology for all kinds of EVs. This scenario is unlikely given the breadth of EV vehicles, charging needs and the rapid evolution of EVs and EV battery technology.
  • Timing of EV conversion: Should the facility install enough charging capacity all at once on the assumption that the entire fleet will be EVs or should there be a multi-year migration as the organization acquires additional EVs and better EVs charging options are brought to market? The first option is costly and may result in obsolete technology but requires less oversight. The second option is disruptive but reduces the risk of obsolescence as battery and charging technology evolves.
  • How much resilience is needed: What is the plan if there is a power outage? How much capacity, if any, should be on standby for backup generators, batteries, and other distributed energy resources?
  • Is there grid capacity: Utilities have done an admirable job of shielding most customers from seeing the challenges associated with upgrading the grid to accommodate growing loads. Commercial areas tend to have a more robust electrical capacity. However, as more fleets electrify, previous assumptions on demand may not be sufficient and the local utility may need years to add capacity. 

To put this in perspective, the image accompanying this article shows a school bus barn with over 100 vehicles. The facility office is in the very top of the photograph. That office would have more than sufficient electrical capacity to operate the lights, a few PCs and the appliances in the breakroom.

The facility would need more than a hundredfold capacity to support the electrification of this school bus fleet. This sudden increase of concentrated loads confounds conventional grid planning and may require years for the grid to accommodate such demand.

Many commercial and industrial facilities need to plan for EV charging

Multiple facilities within an area are likely to consider electrifying their fleet, further complicating matters. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics report, “U.S. Automobile and Truck Fleets by Use,” and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey indicates about 10 percent of commercial buildings support a fleet of 15 or more vehicles. That translates to over 400,000 locations in the U.S. that may involve significant upgrades to electrify their fleet. 

Smaller fleets of just a few EVs may create challenges if too many are concentrated in an area. Without tools to coordinate the timing of charging on the grid, infrastructure cannot distinguish if the charging of 150 EVs is at one facility, at 10 facilities with 15 vehicles each, or at 50 facilities with three vehicles each. Without the proper tools, the local grid may not be able to support fleet electrification for its customers.

Mitigating the commercial EV charging spikes with BEMS

Fortunately, organizations can employ software tools to migrate their fleet more gracefully to EVs. Most large and many medium commercial buildings have building energy management systems to monitor and manage the use of power throughout the facility. The more advanced ones present the option to interact with demand side management solutions offered by their local utility to temporarily reduce loads and ensure demand does not exceed the capacity of any element on the grid at any given moment.

Several progressive BEMS manufacturers are including the option of EV fleet management in their offering. This gives the department responsible for the fleet the tools to manage the unique characteristics of EV fleet management that are distinct from fleet management of vehicles that rely on internal combustion engines.   

A BEMS can solve many problems with energy management for buildings, and can create new demand for BEMS solutions at facilities housing EV fleets that do not currently have a BEMS solution. Guidehouse Insights’ report, “The Impact of EV Fleets on Building Energy Management Systems,” discusses scenarios.

Management of power for commercial EV charging

The next challenge for senior management relates to which department is responsible for electrical capacity planning and management. Traditionally, facilities staff has managed building energy management and overseen the strategy for supplying power to the facility. This team operates as a service provider to the rest of the organization.

The organizational dynamics change when a fleet department’s ability to perform its job depends upon decisions made by another department. Facilities departments are accustomed to collaborating with other departments. However, when exceptional circumstances such as grid outages occur, the organization needs to have plans for allocating what power is available to be distributed within the facility. Decisions must be made about how the power available is allocated to running the building, used for onsite operations, or for charging the fleet based on strategic priorities.

The priority decisions required for an airport would be different for a police department, which in turn would be different for a commercial bakery. Substantial demand for EV charging heightens the importance of determining priority decisions relating to power that supports the overall mission and objectives of the organization.

These topics and the available solutions indicate that the implications of an organization electrifying its fleet are far from simply obtaining a functionally equivalent EV. The additional adoption of building energy management systems will help address many operational and cost issues for the facility, the fleet and the grid.

Guidehouse Insights’ webinar, “The Complete Solution for Fleet Electrification,” will explore this topic Jan. 25 with several subject matter experts.

January 18, 2022 at 02:15PM

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