In Electric Autonomy’s latest webinar, experts from ABB, 7Gen, the Government of Yukon and Lightning eMotors answer key questions about MHDV fleet electrification and building out the supporting infrastructure.

If you think vehicles are the most important thing in planning your zero-emission fleet, think again. It’s charging that should be front and centre, says an expert panel

Fleet operators managing medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDV) face significant challenges and require comprehensive support and strategies when adopting electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

In Electric Autonomy‘s latest webinar, experts from ABB, 7Gen, the Government of Yukon and Lightning eMotors answer key questions about MHDV fleet electrification and building out the supporting infrastructure.

You can watch the full discussion, sponsored by ABB, in the video player and read the summary below.

Starting early

One of the key factors to successfully transitioning MHDV fleets to electric is getting an early start in the process, says Gabriela Favaron, director of EV infrastructure at Vancouver-based 7Gen, which offers turnkey solutions to customers looking to electrify medium and heavy-duty fleets.

Favaron says that many clients approach them after starting their electrification journey. However, they often remain “unsure about the full aspects of the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE),” including how to install infrastructure, how to work with utilities and how to deal with power constraints.

“There are lots of layers that they have to consider earlier in their process,” explains Favaron. She recommends getting charging infrastructure set up even before acquiring electric fleet vehicles.

“The sooner you start your charging infrastructure planning, engineering [and] design, it’s much better to fulfill your operations later on in a smoother way,” she says.

Yukon’s MHDV fleet electrification experience

The Yukon government has been actively encouraging the adoption of electric MHDV vehicles for three years.

While Favaron suggests that fleets start planning and implementing their charging infrastructure solutions before acquiring vehicles, Eoin Sheridan, senior energy advisor for the Government of Yukon, believes this approach won’t gain traction in the territory.

“It’s difficult to make a case to a business that has no EVs on the road that they should be installing charging now,” explains Sheridan.

Yukon’s government offers funding for Level 2 chargers but none for DC fast chargers. Meanwhile, the federal government provides funding but there have been no successful applications within Yukon as of yet, says Sheridan.

For now, “charging is not a bottleneck to uptake in the Yukon,” says Sheridan. “But we expect that to change as supply of the heavier duty vehicles improves and also as the uptake of the lighter duty vehicles grows.”

A significant challenge businesses in Yukon have faced is the limited availability of Class 7 and Class 8 vehicles in the market.

“[But] when it comes to the more medium-duty vehicles, so I’m thinking cargo vans and shuttle buses, we’ve had quite a bit of success there,” says Sheridan. “It looks like a good portion of that fleet will be replaced throughout the Yukon with electric vehicles over the coming years.”

Once fleets start operating 10 or more vehicles, “then charging and organizing good charging infrastructure will becomes a bit more important,” says Sheridan.

Choosing the right chargers

To ensure a seamless transition into electrification, it is also essential to choose the right electric vehicle chargers for your fleet.

Lightning eMotors, a provider of commercial EVs, has over 150 vehicles operating in Canada and 50 medium-duty EVs in the delivery pipeline over the next several months.

“Most of the medium-duty vehicles that we have up there can and are capable of charging on Level 2 because of the duty cycle,” says Tim Reeser, CEO of Lightning eMotors, based in Colorado.

For example, Reeser explains, when considering the typical daily routes of vehicles like school buses, shuttle buses or delivery vans in Canada, they run approximately 60 to 100 kilometres a day. “When you think about what that needs to charge, a Level 2 charger is more than sufficient given its dwell time at night.”

He also adds that installing Level 2 charging is quite straightforward.

“Most of the customers do it at the depot. Level 2 is a 220 outlet, it’s a stove outlet or a welding outlet, so it’s not difficult to put in, we don’t have a lot of upstream requirements for the utilities [and] it’s not very expensive,” says Reeser.

Megawatt charging and lessons learned

In the case of heavy-duty vehicle fleets, setting up charging is more challenging. According to Simon Tessier, ABB’s sales manager for bus and transit in Eastern Canada, powerful megawatt charging is required to enable rapid charging for longer route journeys.

ABB has been working with different vehicle manufacturers to develop a charging solution that can deliver megawatt-level power.

But as ABB works on developing this solution, Lightning eMotors’s Reeser points out that the process of setting up these systems and gaining support from utilities will take time and can be a barrier.

Tessier and Favaron believe that establishing standards such as for charger plugs, transformers, panels and breakers could help overcome some of these barriers and facilitate the deployment of more chargers at scale and at a lower cost.

Tessier also highlighted the valuable lessons on megawatt charging that can be learned from deploying electric school buses and transit fleets.

“Ideally, you want to use the least power possible for your charging infrastructure. You don’t want to have too high of a peak and you want to make sure by looking at charging time, your battery size and your route and trying to find the right amount of power because you don’t want to use too many kilowatts for no reason,” says Tessier.

Transit bus fleet operators are starting to use charging management software to help manage peak loads efficiently.

“We’re seeing more and more of those lessons learned that we’ll be able to apply when we see fleets electrify,” says Tessier.