STOP THINKING, START DOING
Electric Vehicle adoption should be part of a holistic, digital view of smart cities, says Rob Massoudi
They are essential to the business infrastructure of our cities in delivering industrial, commercial and private goods. But with our cities reliance on deliveries, fleet vehicles are coming under increasing pressure to curb their impact on the environment. Evidence from the UK Government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) suggest that some 29,000 deaths per year (4,000 in London alone) are brought forward by exposure to man-made particulate air pollution at current levels. Steps to counteract the frightening levels of pollution include banning noxious petrol and diesel vehicles from roads in city centres, to bring nitrogen dioxide levels within air quality guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation and the EU. A vital part of the smart cities of the future, fleet vehicles are taking steps to reduce harmful emissions. Commercial vehicles are moving towards electrification to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, comply with regulations and create a long-term sustainable business advantage. However widespread adoption is not simply a question of the cost of purchasing Electric Vehicles (EVs). .
“A vital part of the smart cities of the future, fleet vehicles are taking steps to reduce harmful emissions”
Market studies have shown that medium-duty EVs will be cost competitive with their fossil fuel counterparts in the next two years. Though operators hesitate as fleet electrification requires significant initial capital expenditure beyond the vehicle itself, related electrification infrastructure and the cost of electricity from the grid are obvious add-ons. The complexity is then multiplied across entire fleet industries and related business ecosystems. Organisations are struggling to make informed decisions of when to shift to electric fleets and how best to manage them. I believe the solutions can be found in greater connectivity and data powered digital solutions. For fleet operators converting to EVs this means plugging in digital solutions which create a comprehensive view of business ecosystems and provide data-driven performance indicators. These data points can inform all infrastructure design options and operational variables in an EV fleet conversion journey, reducing expenditure and environmental impact.
“It is necessary to map the expected electrical load of the depot site based on planned introduction”
A comprehensive data suite which can be plugged into the entire supply chain, control operating costs-per-mile and even enable profitable new business models. This can both reduce total cost of ownership and optimise capital expenditure in an electric fleet operation. Maintaining or boosting customer satisfaction and honouring service level agreements (SLAs) for timely delivery and geographic reach. And most importantly reducing the impact on the environment.
As private and commercial vehicles electrify power demands will rise, putting a strain on the grid and city infrastructure. We need to look to digital fleet electrification solutions that simplify, clarify and profitably optimise all infrastructure design options and operational variables in an EV fleet conversion journey. Depots will need to adopt new and complex electrical systems to support a fully electric fleet in a safe, economical and scalable manner as part of larger Smart City ecosystems. Infrastructures will need to be properly assessed and upgraded in order to functionally and safely support legacy depot operations, along with EV fleet growth and transition at each depot. Optimising electricity supply contracts, national fleet operators have depots that are spread across multiple utilities. There are more than 3,000 utilities in the United States, each of them offering several different utility tariff structures and these tariff structures vary widely. In Germany over 800 utilities offer energy services creating a plethora of different providers. We have to look at the bigger picture and wider impact. It is necessary to map the expected electrical load of the depot site based on planned introduction of EV loads, against the various tariff elements applicable at each site to understand the impact of electricity costs on the overall fleet operational costs.
“Comprehensive data-informed digital solutions can deliver success, based on the fleet operator's definition of success”
Additionally, it is prudent for the depot to evaluate the cost and operational benefits of installing or expanding on-site renewable energy plants along with the long-term trends in energy prices and renewable technologies. With transportation a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, fleet operators increasingly consider it a stakeholder responsibility to make and keep CO2-level promises. Fleet operators need solutions that will enable them to honour those promises and prove compliance. These considerations and components can all be tracked, managed and actioned through a comprehensive digital suite. Data can mean informed decisions that take into account demands inside and exterior to the business, to take informed steps in the integration of Electric Vehicles.
Data powered digital solutions are designed to accelerate and optimise fleet electrification within operational challenges. Such as near real-time operational variables like vehicle charging rate as well as type and size of infrastructure. Digital solutions can optimise function and deliver according to the fleet operator’s priorities at all times. Operation managers need only specify their operational goal and the digital systems orchestrate the rest of the energy operations in the optimum manner.
Data from fleet, infrastructure and depot sensors, as well as external data feeds stream into digital analytics. The fleet operator only needs to choose current Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and digital solutions can optimise the entire system to deliver the desired outcome automatically and in near real-time. Once the operator chooses an optimisation goal, systems will autonomously monitor a comprehensive array of system variables to make near real-time decisions on how much power to use and from what sources to achieve given goals at any time. A comprehensive digital suite can both reduce total cost of ownership and optimise capital expenditure in an electric fleet operation. While controlling operating costs-per-mile and enabling profitable new business models. Enabling the creation of Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS) offerings for logistics fleets, such as allowing fleet operators to introduce currently prohibited nocturnal deliveries via silent EV trucks.
Logistics fleet operators track KPIs such as cost per mile, on-time delivery and pickup, number of packages handled per shift. All of these KPIs are impacted by the performance of the new electric fleet and its supporting electrical infrastructure. Fleet operators need help to track the operations of the new electric fleet and electrified depot, systems and mobility solutions to lead this transition. Sometimes, though, certain KPIs surge to the front of the line. At Christmas time, operators may be less concerned with lowest energy costs and more focused on satisfying customers with most on-time deliveries by EVs with enough buffer to make all their rounds. Or an operator may find the fleet is not meeting the monthly CO₂ levels it promised stakeholders, in which case ‘lowest possible emissions’ temporarily becomes the definition of success. Operators can use knowledge of the energy systems operating in the facility (modeled digitally in the solution) along with data from sensors and external sources, to plan the next day’s entire depot operation on a minute-by-minute basis. This is because these systems are aware of the depot’s vehicle inventory, vehicle route plans, what types of EVs are in use, what kinds of charging load they represent, how big their battery storage capacity is and what other, non-EV facility loads exist.
“Digital fleet solutions create informed and autonomous systems, capable of overcoming challenges in getting fleet EVs on our roads”
Systems are designed to know the mix of slow, fast and ultra-fast chargers on the site and to be aware of energy purchasing contracts with onsite or off-site suppliers. Aware if there’s a backup generator that can be fired up in worst-case scenarios, such as a storm knocking down power poles. Using all this information, the solution continuously optimises the full energy transaction between all sources and all loads. Comprehensive data informed digital solutions can deliver success, based on the fleet operator’s definition of success, reducing cost and negative impact on our environment. This means timely EV charging with the lowest cost of energy, beneficial cost-per-mile, on-time deliveries that satisfy, service level agreements and proper management of electric grid interactions, all executed with the lowest feasible CO₂ emissions.
Businesses have been operating in the dark, by plugging in at every data point they can gain a complete view of their operation in interpreted data. They can make decisions based on near real-time operational variables, everything from vehicle charging rate to type and size of regional infrastructure. Infrastructure is as important as the vehicles themselves, if fleets are to shift to EVs. We must continue using digital solutions to inform and optimise the process. Instead of simply taking on EVs as required, organisations can make decisions based on a comprehensive account of the business opportunity and supply chain. When and how to adopt EVs with optimum business impact. How they will link in with the wider ecosystem of smart cities and the challenges which they present. Smart cities are connected cities. Where every data point is gathering intelligence and sharing it across the system, allowing it all to be optimised. Systems can cross between private and public networks, benefitting from larger pools of data and management. Electric Fleet vehicles will need to integrate with this wider structure.
Digital fleet solutions create informed and autonomous systems, capable of overcoming challenges in getting fleet EVs on our roads as part of our operational infrastructure. A vital part of making EVs a realistic future in our societies with a positive impact on the environment, our businesses and welcome in our cities.
Rob Massoud is SVP Digital Transformation at ABB Ability