Fleet Operators Finding that Chargers Can Be Expensive
As Employers Find that Chargers Spur Employee Purchase
The significant costs of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the advantages of offering workplace charging were among the topics discussed Monday at a special Fleet Implementation of Plug-In Electric Vehicles seminar prior to the Plug-In 2014 conference in San Jose, Calif.
Workplace charging was a topic of discussion at Plug-In 2014 in San Jose.
EV fleet operators are finding that the cost of charging infrastructure can be surprisingly high. At the same time, manufacturers of EVs are stepping up their involvement in infrastructure development, in part because when charging is made easier, EVs with their merits of low maintenance and low noise because intrinsically more attractive.
“We have done a terrible job” warning prospective EV operators of the expense of EV charging infrastructure, said Enid Joffe, president of Clean Fuel Connection. “It’s not inexpensive,” she said. “We need to do a better job.”
Pacific Gas & Electric, an aggressive user of electrified vehicles, has spent some $3 million on charging infrastructure, said transportation services fleet engineer Efrain Ornales. “For us it’s been a big surprise in terms of what the cost is,” he said. “You have to worry about the infrastructure.”
The availability of workplace charging can help induce employees to buy EVs, but employers face complex decisions as to what sort of equipment to install, and whether to charge their workers to use it.
Keep It Close
Level II charging appears to be the best bet for employers, and charging employees a modest fee to use the equipment helps keep it available, Plug-In 2014 seminar participants said.
“Want more station availability? Charge for its use,” said Dave Packard, senior director for utility business at ChargePoint. Even a very modest charge will prevent hogging of charge spaces for employees who don’t need to charge at work, or who don’t need to charge all day, he said.
PG&E has been a pioneering user of partially and even fully electrified work vehicles.
Another obvious answer is faster charging, and while Level II chargers cost more than basic Level I equipment, installation costs are similar, so the bottom line is not so different. Minimizing the distance between a facility’s electrical room and a planned charging station will reduce costs substantially, said Clean Fuel Connection’s Joffe: “Distance equals money,” she said in San Jose.
Joffe cited instances of EV charging installations costing tens of thousands of dollars – dwarfing the costs of the equipment itself – but also noted that new ways of paying for EV charging infrastructure are emerging, such as third party providers offering charging as a service rather than an equipment purchase, and leasing possibilities.
‘Big Wires’ Are Better
“Installation costs are going nowhere but up,” agreed Packard, as the cost of the chargers themselves is coming down.
He termed Level I charging “a gateway drug,” and advised operators who opt for it to “use big wires” because they are likely to graduate to Level II.
“Opting for a higher charge rate is always best if you can do it,” said Rolf Schreiber, technical program manager for electric transportation at Google. “Give serious consideration to DC fast-charging,” he said. Google has more than 100 EVs of different stripes for employee use, providing the vehicles on a car-share basis for employees’ daytime errands, for car-pool commuting, and for emergency rides home.
Google has a tie-in with BMW’s DriveNow program for airport transportation, and is setting up a battery electric commuter shuttle bus program with the city of Mountain View. The company is experimenting with wireless charging using an Evatran unit and a specially modified Nissan Leaf, and has installed hundreds of chargers for employees who have their own plug-in cars.
Training, Schreiber said, is key, as are features like cord retraction devices on chargers. Experience has shown, he said, that “Nobody will ever hang up a charging cord on a hanger.” Signs in the cars to remind employees to plug-in, and celebratory events to make sure employees understand that the zero emission resource is available are all helpful, Schreiber said. EV telematics aimed at fleets rather than individual EV drivers are a key need, he said.
America’s first Nissan Leaf was delivered in San Francisco in December 2010. Well above 50,000 have now been placed with customers, and fleets are a growing target.
“Lower maintenance, repair and insurance costs are why an EV makes sense in a fleet application,” said Brendan Jones, EV sales operations and infrastructure deployment director at Nissan North America.
Jones described experiences with the 100% battery electric Nissan Leaf with fleets including the City of Seattle (43 vehicles), Houston (27), British Columbia (nine) and the New York City Department of Sanitation, which according to Jones ordered 40 vehicles inadvertently with optional DC fast charging via a dealer misunderstanding – but came to appreciate the feature.
Fleets Need to Be Told
“The fleet challenge,” Jones said, “is a lack of EV awareness.” Nissan is selling something on the order of 3,000 Leaf cars per month, Jones says, which is better than 11 other Nissan models.
Nissan was a gold sponsor of this week’s Plug-In 2014 conference in San Jose, as were the Bay Area and South Coast Air Quality Management Districts. PG&E was the platinum sponsor of the event.
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Source: Fleets & Fuels at Plug-in 2014 in San Jose, Calif.