Insights from MOVE America 2023
At this year’s MOVE America conference in Austin, OEMs, transport operators, tech companies, energy companies, utilities, and policymakers gathered for two days to “reimagine the future of mobility.” The electric vehicle ecosystem dominated the conversation. In particular: charging infrastructure at scale to support fleet electrification. Among the insights reflected across two days of keynotes and panel discussions:
- There aren’t enough chargers to meet the demand that will soon be on the road.
- It’s still “the infrastructure, stupid.” The biggest gating factor is not the chargers themselves, but the power (and power equipment) to support them.
- Overcoming power constraints requires all hands on deck – utility business model reform, streamlined policies, and fleet transparency.
- Site selection is about right place, right time, right power.
There aren’t enough chargers to meet the demand that will soon be on the road.
Currently in the U.S., there are not nearly enough chargers of any kind to support any of the EV use cases. According to 2022 analysis by McKinsey, cumulative demand for chargers at fleet depots is projected to rise from 13,000 in 2021 to 541,000 in 2030. (Cumulative annual energy demand from light commercial vehicles, trucks, and buses would rise from 0.4 TWh in 2021 to 64 TWh in 2030.) That’s assuming half of all vehicles sold by 2030 are zero-emission; many fleets’ electrification plans are even more aggressive.
When it comes to the lag in fleet EV rollouts, “you can’t blame OEMs anymore,” explained Voltera CEO Matt Horton in his presentation, Overcoming the Challenges of Deploying Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure. “It’s clear that infrastructure is the big gating item for electrification of transportation. Part of the challenge is that the charging infrastructure developed to date is not well-suited for fleets, which need reliability-guaranteed fast charging in specific locations.”
“OEMs have charging anxiety too. They were told five years ago to roll out EVs, which they have. But charging infrastructure doesn’t exist at the scale required to support the volumes of EVs the OEMs are aiming for,” said Neil Brooker, COO at BMW Group Designworks.
Bill Cawein, Manager of Technology and Integration at FedEx Express, explained, “We have a just-in-time model for vehicle procurement. So we need charging infrastructure to be installed when the vehicle is delivered. Not meeting vehicle rollout timing is a cardinal sin of fleet electrification.”
It’s still “the infrastructure, stupid.”
At ACT Expo earlier this year, James O’Leary, VP of Fleet Services at NFI, took a play on the famous “it’s the economy, stupid” adage saying, “It’s the infrastructure, stupid.” The sentiment was echoed loudly at MOVE America.
While supply chains of all kinds have created challenges for EV infrastructure developers, the biggest gating factor is not the chargers themselves, but the power (and power equipment) to support them. “It’s been said so many times but you really have to think about the infrastructure before you order the vehicles,” said Bill Combs, VP of Sustainability at Penske.
“Fleets are under huge amounts of pressure to move fast. So it comes as a very unwelcome surprise to learn from the utility that they should’ve been laying the groundwork for site energization 18-24 months ago,” explained Matt Horton.
Dejan Antunovic, Electrification Program Manager at PepsiCo, said one of his team’s biggest lessons learned in the deployment of 14 Class 8 battery electric delivery trucks in Torrance, CA was engaging early with the utility. “It is a time-intensive process unfortunately so starting early is the only way to finish on time.” In fact, PepsiCo had to leverage temporary charging to bridge the almost yearlong gap between truck deployment and full site energization.
FedEx’s Bill Cawein echoed the call for early utility engagement. “I encourage fleets to interact with utilities earlier. That’s what we’re trying to do. We have a fleet of over 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 powered assets; clearly we’re a large consumer of energy. We need utility upgrades that have a meaningful timeline.” Beyond utility timelines, he said, “One of our biggest hurdles is understanding lead times on power equipment such as transformers; is it one month or 16 months? To improve lead times and rein in project implementation timelines, the industry needs to show manufacturers this is not a fad.”
Utility leaders joined the conversation as well. Britta Gross, Managing Director at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), said to the audience, “I think of all of you as a load. Utilities need to know where the loads are and get prepared to deliver the power to support charging infrastructure in the right amounts where you need it.”
Beyond infrastructure development on the load side, there is a looming question about the need for capacity development on the grid side. Gross explained, “Hyperlocal loads driven by EV fleets will require grid upgrades in some places. We’re looking to see how big the loads will be, where they’ll be, and when they’ll need to come online to determine how much work needs to be done to prepare. The load won’t be everywhere at once; we want to know where exactly it’s coming because it’s a feeder-level distribution issue.”
It's not complicated, Gross said, but with 3200 utilities in the U.S., it is very complex. When asked where she hopes the industry will be in seven years, she said, “Very close to half all light-duty vehicle sales are electric and utilities have figured out how to work as system with fleet operators and charging providers on where load is coming and when and what kind of load it is.”
Overcoming power constraints requires all hands on deck.
“Fleets and other big users of energy (e.g., data centers) will have to be more transparent about their electrification plans and load demands,” Gross said. “And utilities will need to fundamentally shift how they plan to support those loads.” Lisa Clemmons Stott, Electric Mobility and Innovation Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has new utility business models on her wish list. “We’re pushing Illinois utilities to put plans in place to address the energy transition,” she said. That’s one component of the state’s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.
“Utilities make decisions on 5, 10, or even 20-year time horizons. Yet five years is a lifetime in the EV industry. Utility planning horizons need to be highly compressed – in fact we may need new utility planning models altogether – because we’ve never seen impact on the energy system like we will in the next five years as transportation electrifies,” explained Ryan Gallentine, Policy Director at Advanced Energy United. “There is legislation and regulation that needs to happen to minimize ratepayer impacts and ensure no unintended consequences for grid reliability.”
“We love our utility partners. They’re faced with a herculean task and they’re trying their best. This industry requires new approaches from all stakeholders, including utilities operating in a way they have never done before by investing ahead of time.”
Matt Horton, Voltera CEO
Fleets bear responsibility as well, of course. One way fleets can help ease the burden on utilities is by considering whether they really need as much power as they think, explained PepsiCo’s Dejan Antunovic. “The infrastructure needs to match the particular duty cycle,” he explained. “For example, if the trucks sit overnight, they might not require fast charging. In that case we might deploy Level 2 chargers and one DC fast charger on site for resiliency.” At another site, in contrast, where delivery trucks need mid-shift charging, PepsiCo might deploy megawatt chargers.
Tobias Lescht, Director of Energy and Infrastructure at Revel, explained a similar approach. “We don’t need 350 kW per stall all the time,” he said. “We can distribute power across the site.”
Eran Rozenfeld, Vice President North America at Driivz, explained how the application of smart energy policies can help. “Software can show the limitations on the grid, the cost of energy, other consumers of grid power, and then balance charger load optimally based on the needs of the fleet (e.g., prioritizing certain chargers or spreading the load evenly). Combining full integration with battery storage enables the fleet to determine the optimal time to charge the battery and to discharge it.”
Site selection is about right place, right time, right power.
One of the challenges in deploying EV charging infrastructure at scale is the need for particular locations to match fleets’ routes. As Revel’s Tobias Lescht explained, site selection is “triangulating between power, real estate, and operations.” At Voltera, we listen to and anticipate our customers’ needs. First step is to understand where the vehicles are coming from and going to. As Matt Horton explained, “We spend a lot of time understanding our customers’ energy demand and routes.”
Bill Cawein shared the approach to site selection at FedEx Express. “We have 800 facilities around the U.S. alone, so we have many options. At this point we’re done with experimentation and we’re looking to really deploy at scale. Our first step to site selection is reviewing existing power availability at the facility we’re considering. That’s common sense yet many fleets don’t do their homework first. It’s important because if grid upgrades are required that can be an 18-24 month process.”
The second step, Cawein explained, is determining the number of EV chargers. “We don’t want to have a pent-up supply of energy that’s not fully exhausted but we also don’t want range anxiety. There’s a software element to determine what we can electrify and what load will be required.”
The third, most important, step, is determining utility upgrade requirements. “We can’t preserve the grid if we’re asking for utility upgrades at every site. So we look to electrify as much as we can with minimal equipment upgrades. That’s a significant component to our strategy; for example, we’ve electrified over 50 vehicles at one station without a utility upgrade.” Minimizing utility upgrades and/or ensuring installed equipment can be reutilized is particularly important because FedEx Express leases most of their sites.
“Fleet electrification will be the most complex experience you’ve every endeavored.”
Bill Cawein, Manager of Technology and Integration at FedEx Express
To learn how Voltera is overcoming site selection challenges, check out our Real Estate Identification & Acquisition at Scale Playbook.