Tim Victor, Scale Microgrid Solutions
July 30, 2020
The past 5 years have seen explosive growth in the electric vehicle (EV) market. While passenger EVs tend to soak up most of the limelight, there is a lack of public charging infrastructure to support widespread rapid growth. Conversely, electric vehicle fleets are flourishing because of their predictable charging schedules, lower total cost of ownership, higher charger utilization rates, and favorable local policy. The charging infrastructure can also be optimized for that specific fleet and its unique operations like its planned routes, distinctive charging profile, and other fleet specific qualities. As fleet managers progress through their planning process, procuring the required electrical infrastructure needed to support the large charging demand in a cost effective and resilient manner turns out to be a significant hurdle.
In California where the transition has the most momentum, there is an additional hurdle to climb in the form of Public Safety Power Shutoffs. When a fleet transitions to electricity, the supply chain for fuel moves from an understood and diversified supply of fossil fuel to sole reliance on an outside partner, the utility. When power is shut off, fuel is not available and fleets do not operate. Addressing resiliency issues will add additional complexity for fleet managers looking to transition to an electrified fleet. Fleet managers need to understand this new risk to their operations and plan for ways to mitigate that risk including the addition of a resilient clean energy microgrid.
A resilient clean energy microgrid provides the capability for an intelligently optimized local energy solution that will reduce costs and improve uptime for the transit authorities. For California or other power outage prone customers, a resilient microgrid is a necessity to ensure fleet operations will continue when power is lost through a planned or unplanned outage. Within a fleet charging microgrid, distributed energy resources like solar PV, battery storage, dispatchable generators, vehicle chargers, and charging optimization software can operate in unison to provide efficient, cost effective and highly resilient power.
Microgrid deployments can also help fleet managers make their energy transition in a more expeditious manner. Utility distribution systems are typically not ready to provide the massive amount of power that a full transit fleet electrification project needs and the time to build the required upgrades can push a project back months or even years. Some utilities will have capacity for the additional load, but the location of the capacity can be at a different location than the existing bus storage facility. If the existing facility is used, the distribution system upgrade costs required by the utility can be massive and could kill the economics of the project. When behind the meter generation sources are deployed, like a microgrid, the load seen at the meter can be drastically reduced and will avoid most of the costs associated with distribution system upgrades from the utility. Additionally, the behind the meter generation sources combined with an intelligent optimization platform can provide a method of demand charge management and time of use energy arbitrage resulting in substantial energy cost savings.
The infrastructure required to make the fuel transition from fossil fuels to electricity is not a low cost project for a fleet manager. Many times, fleet managers have spent years convincing their governing institutions to allocate the funds needed for the transition. The unexpected high cost of infrastructure combined with revenue loss from the COVID-19 pandemic can spell trouble for fleets as they try to complete their planned transition. An innovative funding mechanism similar to a PPA can alleviate the financial burden for these organizations. Funding for the electrical infrastructure, charging optimization, DERs and even the vehicles themselves can be provided with a $0 up front contract that allows the fleet manager to focus on what they do best: operate their fleet. These energy service agreements can provide a cost/mile type of contract that will incorporate all of the required energy assets and will shift the energy procurement risk from the fleet to an experienced distributed energy provider. When a fully funded system is paired with a collaborative team of distributed energy experts, electrification projects can turn from an idea into a reality with minimal risk for the fleet manager.
The switch from fossil fuel based transportation to zero emission electric vehicles is one of the most important aspects of the energy transition and the fight against climate change. Additionally, the downstream benefits of cleaner air and healthier cities will improve the lives of millions and truly improve the world we live in. In order to achieve that vehicle energy transition, a thoughtful approach from experienced energy professionals combined with an innovative technology and financial platform is the secret to success.