Three pieces of advice I'd give any fleet operator looking to go electric
Having worked in the sustainable energy industry for more than a decade, I’ve observed many instances of well-intentioned organizations getting bogged down by the complexities — and sometimes even shelving their ambitions altogether. It’s understandable why many people hit this wall: operators wanting to electrify their vehicle fleets must contend with selecting the right vehicle specifications, designing and installing the appropriate charging infrastructure, navigating complex utility tariffs, developing charging operations that ensure vehicles are charged at the start of every shift… and that is just the beginning.
Helping fleet operators overcome these myriad of challenges was one of the key motivators behind the founding of AMPLY Power (now bp pulse fleet) in 2018. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside numerous organizations as they begin their fleet electrification journeys and overcome challenges along the way.
With transportation being the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we’ll see an exponential increase in fleets looking to electrify as they feel the pressure to meet net-zero targets. As more organizations look to navigate this transition, I wanted to share a few key pieces of advice drawn from my experiences over the past several years of working in this field.
Ask for help
In many ways, going electric for fleets is much more complex than making a switch to an EV for your personal vehicle. Even best-in-class fleet operators enter uncharted waters as they contend with battery sizes, kW vs. kWh, and demand charges. So my first piece of advice is: be aware of what you don’t know, and find resources that have the expertise that you need.
Fleet electrification is complex. There’s the upfront costs of charging infrastructure, the design and installation of the charging site, the fluctuating utility rates, the many different charger-vehicle-grid combinations, and the imperative that the vehicles are charged and ready to go when scheduled. For all these reasons and more, operators should feel empowered to ask for assistance when necessary. And because we still lack standardization for interfaces between chargers, vehicles, and utility grids, operators should be prepared to potentially ask multiple different parties for aid along each step of the way.
Among our various product offerings and services at bp pulse fleet, one of the aspects we get the most consistent positive feedback on is our ability to support customers with this type of all-encompassing, expert guidance through our Charging-as-a-Service (CaaS) solution. For fleet operators that may be less familiar with EV operations and who want to focus on their core business of moving people or things, having this type of full-service support can be a worthwhile investment. But even for those who feel comfortable to “DIY” certain aspects of electrification, I can’t recommend enough to call on an expert — it can save valuable time and money.
Use software to manage charging to save time, money, and headaches
It’s always exciting when you successfully plug in your fleet’s first EV and watch it begin charging; unfortunately, reaching this milestone doesn’t mean that the complexities are finished. Figuring out when and how to charge your fleet once you have everything up and connected can be incredibly daunting if left to manual control. That’s why managed charging is gaining in popularity, and is the approach I’d recommend for anyone who wants cost-effective, reliable charging operations. The core of our products at bp pulse fleet is our omega charge management system: intelligent software that optimizes charging for low-cost energy, vehicle availability, and other factors.
Without software that manages charging, the fate of a fleet operator’s energy bill is left in the hands of the utility. We’ve seen utility costs rise as much as 300 percent or more in a single day, not to mention variations in price between municipalities. Prices can even fluctuate depending on what side of the road your fleet depot is on — but with software-managed charging, you can optimize for low-cost fueling automatically. In fact, Red Hook Terminals’ electric fleet — managed by omega— achieved an 81% decline in fuel costs compared to previous performance with diesel-powered vehicles. These results were part of Red Hook’s first full quarter of operating performance data for its fleet of ten (10) BYD Motors heavy-duty zero-emission battery electric terminal tractors.
While honing in on electricity cost, operators often overlook yet another potential obstacle: refueling time. EV charging takes several hours, making the five-minute fuel up a thing of the past — but with managed charging, this doesn’t have to be a roadblock to reliable vehicle readiness and uptime. For mission-critical operations, like terminal tractors or school buses, software can manage charging so that refueling fits into existing workflows. There are also often site restrictions that limit how much electricity operators can draw at once; managed charging can take these limits into account, too, to make sure vehicles are ready to go when needed.
Think about maintenance and the long-term upkeep
It bears repeating that successfully charging one of your fleet vehicles for the first time is not the end of the road for your electrification journey. Our collective goal when pursuing electrification is to enact long-term change, which means we want our EV fleets to be running successfully for years to come. For this reason, operators need to also consider and plan for maintenance and upkeep of their fleets and charging infrastructure over time. Prioritizing maintenance in early stages will not only ensure your EV fleet can scale up, but that it will continue performing at the highest level.
A few basic points to keep in mind are your charger warranties and your ability to source replacement parts; these are areas where you want to have your plans in place before you need them. At a more advanced level, ideally you are optimizing your charging in a way that preserves the battery health of your vehicles, and proactively monitoring all your charging infrastructure to predict maintenance needs before they escalate into full-blown equipment failures. For our customers, we provide these services through either our CaaS model, which includes 24/7 operations support for maintenance and preventative interventions, or our newest offering, elevate, which provides hassle-free maintenance paired with omega for companies that don’t need the full CaaS model.
Making electrification as easy as possible
Managing EV fleets is certainly a complicated task, but from the success I’ve seen while working with bp pulse fleet’s partners, I can confirm that the benefits far outweigh the obstacles. What’s more, with the right support, electrification can be a smooth and efficient process. Awareness of electrification challenges is a critical first step, enabling fleet operators to equip themselves with tools to succeed before issues arise. The next era of clean transportation is on the horizon, and the bp pulse fleet team is eager to help operators get there with ease.