Verifying where to deploy and what to buy guides each phase in bus electrification, reduces capital costs, and lays out a fast track to success.
Fleet electrification despite the high upfront costs is proving out the promise of operational savings. Yet a positive total cost of ownership (TCO) takes a decade to realize and fleet managers need cost-effective and reliable operational plans for year one of deployment, and for every year to follow. Assessing vehicle and charger compatibility is one step in creating a reliable plan; determining which routes are viable and where charging infrastructure should be installed is another essential step. But addressing these steps individually can result in a disjointed approach and sideline the operation of new and expensive buses.
A fleet electrification plan, in turn, connects each phase of deployments, ensures that vehicle and charger procurements are aligned, and creates a pathway for success. A plan should be rooted in route characteristics, aim for right-sizing equipment, and point to reliable operations out of the gate. The best thing about a plan to guide decisions and guarantee deployment successes is that your grant application will always be scored highly. After all, the policy goals and financial incentives intend to reduce emissions and delivering savings, which can’t happen if buses are stalled in the parking lot.
What Is Planning for Fleet Electrification?
Planning for fleet electrification is a system-thinking approach that considers variables affecting reliable operations and system costs. It requires modeling service routes and operating schedule, electric vehicle characteristics and charging equipment limitations, calculating energy consumed and electricity costs, which together inform facility upgrades and procurement choices. A fleet operator should consider a plan a multi-tool to tease out easily electrifiable low hanging fruit from harder-to-electrify edge cases. A plan depends on three central aspects of fleet electrification:
- Route Fitting. Electric vehicle suitability for all routes of operations is the major source of discomfort in electrification. Temperature, terrain, and payload have a significant effect on vehicle range. Battery chemistry and degradation over the lifetime of operations has a detrimental effect as well. Modeling these elements provides the clarity about what to buy, where to deploy, and when to shift older electric vehicles with less battery capacity to shorter routes. MGL and partners use EVopt to model these real-world factors when calculating route energy consumed and generate battery size recommendations for the fleet.
- Charging strategy and power needs. Determining a prudent charging schedule is one of the most challenging aspects in any fleet electrification project. It is technically impossible to predict what type of chargers are best suited without modeling vehicle operations, charging schedules, and electricity tariff simultaneously. Clarity of the best case electric load profile enables the fleet operator to work with the utility provider to conclude whether the existing power infrastructure today supports near-term needs while also showing long-term capacity requirements. Planning ahead for electric service requests avoids the all too common asynchronous delivery of vehicles without installed chargers. EVopt leverages energy consumption and operating schedules to specify charger sizes, required transformer capacity, and illustrate both unmanaged and managed charge load profiles.
- Economic optimization. To realize the promise of lower TCO through electrification, a fleet operator or engineering consultant needs to identify vehicle deployment options and charging scenarios that minimize the cost of infrastructure, and the cost electricity. How fast and when vehicles charge bring tradeoffs of higher peak demand verse lower price time windows. A tariff optimization analysis will reveal the capital cost impact of high speed charging (more expensive equipment) verse operational impact of longer duration charging (lower demand charges). A well vetted charging strategy can save 30-40% in equipment costs right up front, or 30-40% of operating expenses which will take 10 years to become the equivalent dollar amount. EVopt gets to the root of which charging strategy fits operation needs and saves the most money.
How Planning Increases Grant Competitiveness?
In December of 2021, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) implemented the requirement for transit agencies to submit a Zero Emission Fleet Transition Plan (ZEFTP) for competitive grant applications, to demonstrate, among other things “a long-term fleet management plan with a strategy for how the applicant intends to use the current request for resources and future acquisitions”. Other grant funds are beginning to follow suit as shown in this years EPA Clean School Bus Grant which scored significant points for “continuation plans”. It’s important to recognize that with both programs mentioned, approximately only one quarter of applicants are awarded. Even though significant amount of monies are available for zero emission fleet transition, grant applications shouldn’t be considered a simple handout.
MGL directly consulted or indirectly supported several transit agencies with their ZEFTP to apply for FTA grants. Using the planning tool EVopt and a phased-in approach, considerations for the next stage vs. over the horizon where clarified. Brockton Transit Agency (BAT) in particle submitted [and awarded] a ZEFTP that identified vehicle and infrastructure needs at 25% electrification, 50%, 75% and 100%. The clarity of transformer capacity for each stage, and the year that would likely occur, has enabled the agency and it’s utility to move forward quickly with the foresight about when the electric load would increase, allowing for adequate planning and upgrade time.
MGL also directly supported several school districts and their utility with ZE planning and EPA grant applications. Using EVopt the team determined that midday charging is necessary for full day operations under worse-case weather conditions. This insight shifted the charging strategy for the fleet operator, and opened the door to consider much lower cost chargers while improving the energy cost expectations. Both the fleet operator and the utility were able to benefit from significantly lower peak demand than had been anticipated when relying on hardware sellers alone.
This level of planning need not be protracted nor expensive. MGL generates initial fleet assessments at an affordable rate; and detailed planning builds out the long-term strategy. Using the EVopt SaaS approach the plan can be easily updated as performance is verified, alternative routes are prioritized, or procurement decisions change.
Planning for success with a ZEFTP will:
#1 Give confidence to a fleet operator about the best routes to electrify in the short term and the charging strategy that optimizes both capital costs and operating expenses;
#2 Plug into grant applications and drive procurement decisions in the short term and long term;
#3 Allow the utility to rapidly assess capacity and process service connection requests with a clear line of site to tomorrow’s needs.