Charging & Maintenance

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Chris Hill is Program Manager, Fleet Planning at the City of Guelph as well as twice serving as chair of NAFA's Ontario Chapter. Photo Jack Kazmierski

There’s more to EV acquisition than just the vehicle itself.

General Motors has begun production of the electric-drive BrightDrop commercial van in Ingersoll, Ontario.  Along with Lion in Quebec, there are now two assembly plants in Canada producing fully electric vehicles for fleet customers.

The day when more fleet managers decide to order the first electric vehicle for their organization is getting closer.

Battery charging

The best place to start is not what vehicle to get, but how the vehicle battery will be charged.  One of the benefits of an electric vehicle is that it can be recharged when not in use.  The business case for an electric vehicle is improved if the vehicle is parked overnight, allowing lots of time for recharging at a time when electricity prices are usually lower than during daylight hours.

The first decision then is where will the vehicle be charged.  Will it be taken home by an employee and charged there, or at the owner’s place of business?

Let’s focus on charging at the workplace. It’s said that no one climbs Mt. Everest alone, so it is recommended that this be a team project no matter what the size of the charging station is. The facility manager is a key stakeholder in this.

And bear in mind that “charger” is misused as a common term for what is properly known as EVSE or electric vehicle supply equipment.  A charger is a device in the vehicle that converts AC power to DC and controls the flow of power into the batteries to avoid damaging them.

Consulting utility providers

The electrical distribution utility needs to be consulted.  The grid connection and site infrastructure need to be sized to the electrical demand for charging. The fleet owner needs to forecast how many vehicles will be charging several years into the future, even if the equipment will be expanded later. It is sometimes beyond the utility’s capacity to add more service to an existing site. If this is the case, an alternate site needs to be found.

Another benefit of electric vehicles is the cost of electricity to cover the same distance is much lower than other fuels.  But it needs to be managed. “Demand charges” are electricity surcharges that kick in at peak usage and can be levied by the utility if too much power is used at certain times of the day.  If the site otherwise has low demand for power, like an office or a warehouse, demand charges need to be managed to reduce electricity costs.

Public charging stations could be used instead of an on-site facility, but that means interrupting the vehicle’s daily use to recharge while in use and additional lost time if the nearest station is occupied or out of service.  The cost of public charging is not regulated and is nowhere nearly as competitive as retail gasoline.  Charging prices can vary by a large amount depending on the vendor.

Different maintenance considerations

Another benefit of electric vehicles is reduced maintenance expense because there are fewer moving parts to wear out.  Roger Smith, founder and CEO of Fleet Challenge points out that EV owners still need a budget for maintenance.  A lot of things still require regular services, such as tires, suspension, heating and air conditioning, and yes, brakes, but not nearly as frequently as before since EVs feature regenerative braking as opposed to relying on friction surfaces for stopping.  EV medium- and heavy-duty trucks will require annual inspections, as required by provincial regulations.

EVs are the next big challenge in fleet management and will be one that engages more than just the fleet manager in any organization.  Having a plan that has the charging requirements in place is a good place to start.



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