Zero In on…Charging Infrastructure

Buying an electric truck is simple, but deploying it into the fleet is anything but. During a Greentech education session on charging infrastructure, a panel of experts gave fleets looking to electrify a lot to think about when it comes to putting in place the hardware needed to support those electric vehicles. Theresa Cooke, head of global customer success and service operations with Siemens explains how electrifying a fleet is like planting a garden.

Theresa Cooke: It’s not simply a matter of buying an electric vehicle and putting it into use. Spring is coming, right, and the spring of electrification is coming.

And we’re building a garden together of this electrification of transportation to make things greener. And we’re gonna need a lot of different components.

It’s not just about having seeds. And it’s not just about having soil. And it’s not just about having a rake. You need all the pieces at the right time in the right place. And it’s a multi-year endeavor.

So, when we think about a charger, and it’s similar to kind of what you’re saying, Mark is like, we see people going out and saying, ‘Oh, I have a truck, I’ll just get a charger.’

Please don’t do that. Okay, you can’t just buy soil and plunk it down and hope that you’re going to have a beautiful garden. The soil is important. Soil quality is important. And I’ll talk a few things about what kind of soil we need to be looking for. But never forget that it’s an ecosystem. All the pieces have to work together.

Keegan Tully is president and CEO of PowerOn Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation. He touched on some of the challenges involved in electrifying a fleet.

Keegan Tully: Challenges can range from a variety of things. You go to look at chargers, there’s a multitude of chargers out there — different powers, different vendors. Are those vendors going to be around long-term?

We see lots of start-ups in this space that are folding. These are 10-year assets, you know, are they going to be around? When you think about insulation, there’s a multitude of options to you know, hire an engineer and a contractor to build or do you hire somebody like PowerOn that’s turnkey?

And so I think all of these challenge arise and getting the right information and moving quickly and doing it well. Right. The worst thing that can happen to somebody starting out to electrify is, you know, failing. It’s a, you know, people are taking a bit of a leap of faith by changing the technology that they’re using, and you don’t want to go out there and fail first thing.

Mark Marmer, owner and founder of Signature Electric says fleets must also future-proof their charging infrastructure so they can easily grow the electric portion of their fleets. Here’s why.

Mark Marmer: So sometimes things are simple. I put in two chargers, maybe don’t put them in a spot where there’s only space for two chargers. If we’re going to need more, just look at the physical space and say, Okay, well, I don’t know if we’re going to expand, but if we expand, this direction will work fine.

I had to dig up 100 feet of asphalt to get it in. Don’t just put an inch and a quarter conduit, maybe we’ll put two-inch conduits. We just finished installing seven dual charges for a customer that dug up a 500-car parking lot.

We went in and spent about $100,000, put in all kinds of conduits. And the first one got used, that made the job so much easier with the wires pulled into the existing conduit. So if I can speak to anybody, if you’re digging up asphalt, please put something in the ground, even if you’re not sure — the cost is so minimal to be able to do that.

So kind of think ahead. And as we got into it at the beginning, you’re right, we’re looking, I’ve got five trucks I’m going to do, but turns out I’ve got 50 trucks in total. And I’d like to grow in 10% a year.

Okay, well, let’s get the five trucks in place. Use this as a bit of an experiment. Did we make the chargers too small, too big? How’s that working? It’s a chance at that early stage to make a little mistake if we made it, and then start to think about how it’s going to look like three years down the road.  Maybe this service is not going to be big enough.

But sometimes when you get talking to the customer, it turns out that they’ve got plans for three years down the road to move somewhere because their business is growing. Well, until you get into these conversations. You don’t know this. So a lot of this is about this ongoing conversation and discussion.

One thing everyone agreed on is you can’t get started with planning or charging infrastructure too early. Theresa Cooke explains why it’s important to plan early and plan for delays.

The longest lead item on these projects is human buy-in so that you have to start ASAP. And you can start that in different ways. You know, look at these vehicles out here.

Have you sat in these? Like, I want to bring my kids here! This thing is amazing! This is how we start human buy-in. We talk to each other; if someone tells me we’re going to train with a webinar one more time, I’m shooting myself.

We create human buy-in by talking, by experiencing, by moving our bodies, by walking to places and talking to each other, right? So, being alive and learning situations.

So I just want to say, you know, how long does it take? It takes as long as it takes to transform the minds and the hearts of the people who are going to operate this and make decisions about this and be impacted by it.

Now, coming to your technical question, you know, I encourage highly, if you can do AC, go for AC charging. Why?

It’s just so much easier and it’s lower cost. And it’s higher flexibility. If you have the long dwell times, AC all the way. You can maybe do it in a couple of months, a little permitting risk, maybe, but it could be done.

DC, if you have to start upgrading your site, and then, you know, your utility, which is going to happen at scale, we’re talking nine to 36 months, right?

So, we have a very potentially long time. So, if you haven’t talked to your utility — number one thing is utility, utility, utility, because you’re going to need it. We’re seeing projects in California — we thought a project that was going live for sure in January, July is like not even sure because the utility just can’t get to it just can’t operationalize.

So even if they say that what their date is, is that really their date? So I think that lead times is huge. And then I also just have to mention the lead times on electrical equipment from the day you place it, our factories are packed. Why?

Data centers, right? All these huge investments, right? So we’ve got factory lead times on transformers four to five years in some cases. Now on the lower voltage stuff, maybe you know 10 to 12 months, but no joke that’s from the day you placed your order. So you’ve got to work it on the electrical and ordering side as soon as possible.