What to Consider When Thinking About Converting Utility Fleets to Electric
The greening of U.S. utilities is already underway, as already seen at the last Utility Expo, the next one coming to Louisville, Ky. September 26-28. The U.S. has committed to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52% from 2005 levels, and with electric utility production accounting for 25% of those emissions, utilities are under pressure to turn to cleaner sources of energy. Electrifying their fleets is just another step in their overall plan to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations.
Southern California Edison was recently recognized by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) for their progress in transforming to a carbon-free electricity sector and named to their 2023 Utility Transformation Leaderboard. They have already taken important steps to electrify a significant portion of their fleet, which is comprised of more than 6,700 assets – approximately 5,000 vehicles, 1,000 trailers, and 700 off-road assets.
Todd Carlson, SCE Principal Manager of Fleet Asset Management outlined their ambitious goals. “SCE seeks to lean into electrification opportunities and must be aggressive to meet proposed California air quality and greenhouse gas reduction goals associated with the proposed California Advanced Clean Fleet rule”, says Carlson. “SCE plans to have 90% of our light-duty vehicles electrified by the end of 2025 and 100% by 2030. That same year, we also expect to exceed 30% of our medium-duty and 10% of our heavy-duty.”
SCE’s electrification journey offers leaders insights to consider for your own fleet transformation.
CREATE A ROADMAP
SCE used a telematics fleet assessment to outline vehicles targeted to be replaced by EVs, where they park, and how long they have to charge. This was used to calculate the charger size required at each facility by year.
“We collaborated with our facilities team on a construction plan to install the infrastructure and chargers needed for the next five to 15 years at each site,” says Carlson. Each site has its own project plan.
CONSIDER TIME AND BUDGET CONSTRAINTS FOR EV CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE
Infrastructure lead times and budgets are particularly important considerations. “Construction is costly and you may need to cut concrete or asphalt across a parking lot or add a new panel or switchgear,” says Carlson.
In addition, SCE had to contend with a small number of sites that were circuit constrained and required the utility to complete a circuit upgrade. Other conditions that required longer lead times include new to-the-meter service drops when switchgear is required.
EV infrastructure charging costs across 240 projects we recently published by ICF, a global advisory and technology services provider. This information can be useful in budgeting.
TAP INTO FEDERAL AND STATE INCENTIVES
Both federal and state incentives can help offset costs for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. Refer to the US Department of Energy website for a list of incentives, laws and regulations, funding opportunities, and other federal initiatives related to electric vehicles. SCE was able to tap into both sources for its electrification efforts.
PREPARE A BUSINESS CASE FOR EVS
Beyond meeting air quality and carbon emission goals, a strong business case can help utilities build consensus and commitment to change. At SCE, the business case for electric pickups and ePTO bucket trucks is supported by the high cost of gasoline and diesel fuel in California.
Expect lower maintenance costs to be part of the value proposition for electric vehicles. “Our EVs that replaced gas vehicles have very favorable maintenance outcomes,” says Carlson. “And our traditional hybrid vehicles have also had good maintenance outcomes over the last ten years.”
SCE expects similar results for newly delivered EV tractors replacing diesel units.
TAKE DRIVER OPINIONS INTO ACCOUNT
Carlson recommends surveying your current drivers to assess if they are excited, neutral, or opposed to replacing their fleet vehicle with an EV. “Ask your drivers if they own an EV or if they have ever driven an EV for context as a starting point for organizational change management,” says Carlson. “The EVs often sell themselves because drivers like the quiet operation and reduced job site emissions.”
According to Carlson, providing test or demo units to drivers often results in drivers asking, “When can I get one?”
PREPARE FOR EXPECTED ISSUES
According to Carlson, product availability is the biggest issue in the electrification of the fleet, and not just medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. “Even the exploding pickup truck space has been hit by availability and production constraints.,” he says.
Once SCE achieves full-scale adoption of EV work trucks, portable chargers and robust public charging for storm support and emergencies will be required. However, Carlson doesn’t see portable charging solutions as a current constraint for EV work truck adoption.
There’s a lot to consider when electrifying your fleet but because fleets like SCE are sharing how they plan to reach their goals, it’s making electrification easier not only for all utilities but for their commercial customers as well.
About The Utility Expo
The Utility Expo is the largest event for utility professionals and construction contractors seeking comprehensive insights into the latest industry technologies, innovations and trends. The biennial trade show, known for equipment test drives and interactive product demonstrations, takes place in Louisville, Ky. The next edition will be September 26-28, 2023.
About the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)
AEM is the North America-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers with more than 1,000 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related industry sectors worldwide. The equipment manufacturing industry in the United States supports 2.3 million jobs and contributes roughly $316 billion to the economy every year.