Why Infrastructure is First Step in Electric Vehicle Transition

January 03, 2022 by Trucks.com, @trucksdotcom

Editor’s note: Written by Niki Okuk, the Fleet Engagement & Community Outreach Program Manager for CALSTART, a nonprofit organization accelerating clean transportation solutions. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

It’s no secret that some of the biggest barriers to zero-emissions trucks for small fleet owners and operators today are costs and planning. However, a third, harder-to-quantify hurdle is misconceptions about how to prepare for the transition, as well as available cost and planning resources.

With recent strides in electric truck technology and an influx of supporting government programs in the pipeline, widespread EV transition is on the horizon—and now is the time to bridge the knowledge gap for small fleet operators and owners.

That education starts with infrastructure—one of, if not the most, important consideration in the EV transition. Infrastructure can often seem like a black box for some due to deployment lead times, equipment requirements and space considerations. However, taking the time upfront to master infrastructure—lot capacity, shared charging facilities, maintenance, and more—will arm fleet owners and operators with the know-how to jumpstart the transition process with confidence.

From gauging the appropriate timeline for installation to identifying public charging locations, it’s time to educate ourselves around all things infrastructure—the backbone of EV fleet adoption. Here are three steps you can take now to accelerate successful infrastructure implementation and, in turn, set yourself up for long-term success in EV fleet adoption:

Don’t Jump The Gun On Purchasing A Vehicle

When beginning the transition to zero-emission fleets, there’s a common misconception that purchasing the vehicle is a one-and-done solution. Often, people dive headfirst into the process without putting the necessary structure in place to ensure long-term success, leaving them with an expensive new asset and no plan in place to maintain the purchase over time.

To ensure you have everything you need to make a worthwhile investment, start with infrastructure research—energy needs (daily kWh), charging times and locations, operating hours and range requirements. Why? Underestimating power needs or choosing the wrong charger can lead to significant delays and sunk costs. Utility providers are often a critical resource in this process, especially if you’re planning charging

Calstart's Niki Okuk

Niki Okuk

infrastructure for large fleet depots, truck stops and fleet yards, which require substantial power. If you don’t know who your utility provider is, there are resources out there to help (California, for example, offers an Electric Service Utility Areas map).

Ultimately, installation may require planning by both the utility and fleet operator years in advance. Taking the time upfront to understand and plan infrastructure logistics, like utility upgrade costs and timelines for charger installation, will help optimize your transition.

Evaluate Site Infrastructure And Utility Grid Needs

An important next step in the transition process is understanding how ZEV charging infrastructure can fit into your existing sites. Fleet managers should evaluate building and land configurations to get a sense of necessary upgrades—from trenching and laying down conduit, to additional energy storage. While it may seem trivial, things like charger location matter. Managers should think about equipment placing based on driver behaviors, like where they exit the vehicle, access the bathroom or punch out. Ask yourself how you can accommodate the end-user to unlock maximum efficiency.

Companies need to understand their existing infrastructure and how to integrate EV equipment to support efficient operations, maximize equipment lifecycles and limit costs. This allows you to anticipate potential scaling needs should your fleet transition from 10 to 100. Consider charging placement and electrical upgrades that allow for the addition of trucks in the future. By thinking through all of these steps from the start, you’ll be able to create a cohesive ecosystem for the vehicle when you make the purchase.

Learn About Existing And Forthcoming Resources 

If you’re located in California, there are a number of existing resources and websites that can help you plan for and implement infrastructure requirements. Transforming Trucks Transforming Communities, for example, is a one-stop-shop virtual hub featuring relevant news, resources and tools, to educate small fleets about the transition to zero-emission vehicles. You can leverage their Funding Finder Tool & Shop The Vehicle Catalogue to start the education process. Other resources include:

State and local governments are also investing in charging infrastructure as part of their economic-stimulus programs, from direct investments for public charging stations to subsidies for the installation of private charging stations at homes and workplaces. In fact, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $2.5 billion in funding for publicly accessible electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure that for medium and heavy-duty commercial trucking. With significant funding in the pipeline, small fleet owners need to be educated and ready to take advantage of these opportunities.

The Road Ahead To Electric Vehicle Transition

Most discussion of EVs today is centered upon the vehicles themselves and whether they offer the same kind of benefits as traditional fueling—but infrastructure ultimately plays just as important a role in paving the way to widespread adoption. There’s still much work to be done to make EV infrastructure more comprehensible and accessible to fleet owners and managers and to develop a more shared charging infrastructure. Fleet managers and owners can take the time now to understand and plan for infrastructure to position themselves for long-term success.

Editor’s note: Trucks.com welcomes divergent thoughts and opinions on transport technology and trucking industry issues. Use the comments section to cite yours. Qualified opinion leaders are welcome to offer suggestions for opinion columns. Contact info@trucks.com.

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