If anything was apparent at NTEA's Work Truck Week 2023, it was this: more and more fleets, running every class of commercial vehicle, hear the chatter, notice the momentum, and end up asking about electrifying their routes and whether EVs are right for their freight-hauling operations.
Their next urgent concern usually involves power: tapping the grid, where and how to plug in, for how long, and whether their local utility can provide the juice. Often, that answer is lacking in certainty.
Attendees at Work Truck Week learned this is all best planned and realized step-by-step, or so explained Amy Dobrikova, who gave clear voice to a process that can be confusing and intimidating.
Dobrikova, who is VP of fleet solutions for Blink Charging, led a session during the Green Truck Summit at NTEA called Electric Foundations: Charging Your Infrastructure that guided attendees in the steps (building blocks, actually, because Legos were literally involved) to electrification with a focus on charging and infrastructure.
She made it kind of a game, challenging participants to "put the blocks in the order you think they should be and start with the foundation at the bottom.”
“It’s so exciting to see the growth of the industry," Dobrikova said. "There is a totally different plan for heavy duty, which is going to need a lot of power, a lot of fast charging.”
Indeed, the supply chain will untangle, OEMs are multiplying, the EVs will be ready. The key to an electric future, increasingly, is charging.
In her session at NTEA, the Blink fleet solutions VP lit the path, so to speak, to charging infrastructure.
Blink is a global supplier of EV charging solutions, owns and operates plug-in locations themselves, and will be one of three providers that will provide the U.S. Postal Service with up to 41,500 charging units as part of the Postal Service's electrification strategy. Blink also is an approved supplier of charging and infrastructure for dealerships that are designated as EV-certified, she said.
In Indy, she passed out colorful cards and asked attendees to game out the proper order of the 11 steps that she recommends commercial EV adopters take to go from zero to all the charging plugs they might need or want. She even gave select attendees extra-large Lego blocks to lock the colors what she recommends is the correct order"
"This is my opinion of the order, and yes there is variability of that order, and every application is different," she said.
Review Funding, Rebates, Grants, and Incentives: "There is so much funding out there right now, whether it's federal funding [or] state grants," she said, adding that Blink uses a funding analyzer that starts with a fleet's location (its state, its ZIP code) and determines where the funding and incentives are available, either federal or state. Other charging gear/infrastructure manufacturers are plugged into where financing is and should be able to show fleets the way to the money.
Select Electric Vehicle Specifications: This will determine what type of power hookups you need. EVs brought to the industry by several OEMs are in development and testing and have penetrated the marketplace to varying degrees. All these EVs have connections for standard AC (J1772) or CCS1 (that accommodate faster charging) ports. When spec’ing a commercial EV, this is perhaps most important—besides evaluating whether your fleet has a “use case” that currently fits with electrification and your total cost of ownership.
Select Your Charging Hardware: Dobrikova said one consideration, if your mid-class or lighter commercial vehicles and work trucks go home with employees, is residential charging that might run through NEMA 6-50 wall receptacles (like, for example, an electric dryer, or many other appliances would). So make sure they're homes have those wall plugs, as most do. She also emphasized during her presentation that the life expectancy of most charging hardware is about a decade—many if they're located in depots like those Blink installs or helps set up are cellular-connected for status reporting and go back to the outdated 3G standard but that the more durable ones can last 20 to 30 years—so think about how long and who might use charging as well as for which EVs.
"These chargers have to last, they have to be durable," she said.
Schedule a Site Visit: “Blink sends an electrician out, who comes out to look at your [electrical] panel or panels, to look at your capacity, and your access to your utility’s electric grid," she said.
Design and Lay Out the Charging Site: "Pull the power," Dobrikova advised, "map it out" and identify where on your property chargers and the infrastructure will go. If the carrier leases its land where its headquarters or terminals are located, a call to your landlord or lessor company also is an essential step right about now.
Prepare for Future Growth of Charging Depots: "You're going to need to plan ahead for this," she said, to have the capability when two chargers turn to six and then turn to a dozen or more. This early step is about planning for success, not for failure, industry stakeholders have said.
Permitting and Utility Upgrades: This involves contacting and involving the fleet's local utility, Dobrikova remarked, but the timing of this step can be determined during the site visit. This step, she said, also might be when fleet operators should evaluate when it will take delivery on electric vehicles it might have selected and ordered. “You don’t want your vehicles arriving with no place to plug them in,” she added.
Construction and Installation: Obviously this involves prior steps like commissioning a contractor, but this step involves the largest expense—and that doesn’t even include the purchase of the chargers themselves, Dobrikova said.
“This runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said, adding that permitting costs with a local government and digging up concrete already present onsite are variables and add to the expense of construction and installation. Also, she didn’t speak during the Green Truck Summit session for other vendors, but Blink maintains a nationwide network of charging installers.
“Every location is different, and pricing is all over the place,” she remarked.
Uptime, Reliability and Network Services: Some chargers are cellular-networked (another part of the decision-making process for a fleet, whether to purchase cell-connected equipment), which allows a vendor like Blink to remotely see whether chargers are operating or are down and need a service visit. This enables Blink to offer a 24-hour guarantee that if a charger goes down, it can be brought back online expeditiously. For carriers and trucking at large, uptime for tractors, trailers, and equipment (and in the brave new world of electrified operations) is everything.
“This is one of the biggest pain points right now,” Dobrikova said.
Preventive Care and Maintenance: Fleets often have to look long and hard at prospective service contracts that can go along with the purchase of new equipment, but she said, for inspection and repair of infrastructure the company sells and installs, Blink partners with fleet maintenance company Amerit Fleet Solutions, which as part of its business model supports clean fleets, for upkeep of chargers or in the event they go down. Part of that whole "downtime must be avoided at all costs" attitude at fleets and in the C-suite, regardless of the transportation fuel—electric, natural gas, or diesel—a carrier utilizes.
Backup power and Mobile Charging Solutions: If a freight hauler has been in business any time at all, they know the old adage applies: "It's not a matter of if something goes wrong, it's when." That applies to the final step in the road to electrification and charging, which is planning for when a EV runs out of juice on the road but can't get back to home base to charge.
Blink markets a free-standing Level 2 generator-powered EV charger that isn't intended as a sustainable solution but is low cost and is "meant to just rescue that driver and will get that vehicle with enough power to be able to go back to the nearest charging station and get a full charge."
Blink also is developing a solar canopy with battery backup storage to power chargers at fixed depots "that will be a great option for fleets," just in case the power goes out or the grid goes down. Blink won a grant from the state of Florida to deploy 25 solar-canopy-powered DC fast chargers at locations along highways in the Sunshine State. "And so once that project is deployed we'll be modifying this for the fleet application," Dobrikova said.