Bye-bye, roaring vroom-vroom of a gas engine. Hello quiet, steady hum of an electric vehicle’s computerized motor. One after another, governments around the globe are pledging to have over 50% of vehicles on the road be electric vehicles, or EVs, within the next ten years.
These targets also affect commercial fleets, which are now trying to determine the feasibility and costs of running all-green fleets. And while mathematically the transition to EVs makes economic sense as the cost of operational expenditures is lower, there’s a practical concern of absent EV charging infrastructure.
How strong is the demand for electric vehicle charging infrastructure?
By now, most of us have learned that charging cables don’t work with all phones. You have USB-C, micro-USB, and Apple’s Lightning cable. They look almost the same but juice up your device at different speeds. The same goes for electric fleet charging. Each EV comes with a cap on the maximum charging power it can accept.
There are three EV charging standards:
- Level 1 charging using electrical outlets with power of 120V in the US and 220/230V in Europe. This is how most drivers charge their e-cars at home.
- Level 2 charging using 240V electrical circuits. This is mostly used for public charging across cities.
- Level 3 DC fast charging using ultra high-power 480V circuits is the new type of EV fleet charging infrastructure that private fleet owners and governments are working on installing.
Level 1 EV stations are like your old iPhone charger — you have to leave the car charging overnight most days. DC fast charging is like using a Lightning cable — in 30 minutes, your battery is at least half full.
The faster the better, right? Well, if you’re ready to pay a premium. DC chargers are expensive to build and maintain. The US Department of Energy estimated that the average cost to install one non-residential DC charger is around $8,000 to $50,000. For comparison, Level 2 chargers can be added for just $500 to $10,000 on average.
Consequently, fast EV charging solutions are hard to come by. In the UK, 75% of public chargers are slow 3 to 7 kWh types. Many EU countries are doing only marginally better.
Breakdown of public EV chargers in EU countries
Source: Recharge EU — How many charge points will Europe and its Member States need in the 2020s
At the same time, the EU and global regulators have set ambitious plans for zero-emission transportation and proactively phasing out combustion engine cars. But this transition will be impossible without joint action on electric vehicle charging infrastructure development.
If we are to meet the target of 290 million charging points by 2040, we’ll need $500 billion in public-private investment.
The keyword here is “public-private.”
Governments alone won’t be able to deliver all the infrastructure the electric transportation sector needs. But they can entice more private players into the space through attractive electric car charging station business opportunities such as:
- Financial incentives and regulatory support for EV charging infrastructure development.
- Discounted or subsidized energy tariffs during the first few years in operation.
- Streamlined permitting for construction, especially in dense urban areas to provide charging access to local populations.
- Partnership deals, ranging from charging station leasing and co-ownership to subscription-based charging as a service plans for electric public transport fleets.
Apart from creating charging infrastructure, there are extra value opportunities in servicing and managing it.
McKinsey estimates that services to support smart electric vehicle charging systems could be worth some $15 billion in annual revenue and savings. The new profit pools emerge from:
- Ancillary grid services. EV fleet owners can sell back power accumulated in vehicles during periods of peak demand. By 2030, such trade volumes can reach $1.3 trillion per year.
- Renewable energy procurement. Infrastructure operators can procure energy straight from the source (e.g. a nearby solar panel field) instead of paying the energy company. Such a model can save operators over $8.6 billion by 2030.
- Energy management services. Fleet operators can also build long-term energy storage to procure energy when it’s cheap, then use it to power EV fleets. This strategy can yield a $4.4 billion annual cost reduction by 2030.
To sum up: the global commitment to de-carbonizing transportation is strong. Yet the lack of suitable commercial electric truck charging infrastructure and modest progress in construction deters many fleet managers from converting their fleets today.
Private players in other sectors — from the oil and gas industry to real estate — are also looking for ways to capitalize on electric vehicle business opportunities.
By 2030, the share of electricity demand from public charging will be close to that of private vehicle charging; we estimate that the number of individual public charge points throughout Europe will increase tenfold.
Six principles for developing and operating electric vehicle charging infrastructure
EV charging for business is a new cross-industry battlefield that different players are sizing up. For one, there are EV automotive enterprises looking to augment their core business — selling cars — with value-added services like car charging, as Tesla does.
Meanwhile, fleet owners are partnering with utilities and tech startups to get charging stations installed on their premises. Also, both the real estate and retail sectors are looking to monetize their convenient locations by offering charging spaces.
So how do you get into the business of running your own EV charging infrastructure? We break down the main steps.
Transportation and Logistics Solutions for EVs
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1. Devise your charging schedule
As battery technology improves, commercial eTrucks can cover up to 500 kilometers on one charge with maximum battery configurations. That’s an ample runway to cover most last-mile deliveries and mid-haul routes between two hubs.
But the big question is how to charge electric trucks cruising long-haul routes.
There are four possible charging scenarios:
- Overnight in-hub charging. This option comes with the lowest capital expenditures, especially if you maintain a private charger on-premises and negotiate tariffs with the local utility company. The obvious shortcoming is that not every hub-to-hub route can be covered on one charge. So far, this EV charging strategy has proven to work best for last-mile delivery companies.
- Mid-route charging. Similar to fueling pit stops, you can build trucking routes around available public and private stations. The glaring issue right now is that EV infrastructure availability remains largely uneven. You can opt to (co-)build public charging infrastructure as a joint venture or negotiate partner pricing from existing public infrastructure providers.
- Battery swapping. Replacing a discharged battery pack with a freshly charged one is an elegantly simple idea… on paper. In practice, the tanked startup Better Place was a good illustration of why swapping EV batteries is hard and expensive. Still, some players like Chinese EV maker Nio keep pushing this idea. Nio’s “Battery as a Service” or B2C offer struck a chord with consumers who could shave off the e-car cost by leasing a 70 kWh battery pack with six monthly swaps instead of buying a car with a battery installed. A similar strategy for commercial fleets is yet to be tested for feasibility.
- Overhead lines. Charging eTrucks through overhead lines either while driving or during fueling stops is a promising new direction. Though the infrastructure investment costs are high, many governments seem keen to help. Germany has been testing electric truck highways since 2019 and already has converted several kilometers of autobahns into electric highways. Californian authorities are running similar tests with the help of Siemens. This EV fleet charging strategy can draw significant savings for operators.
Dynamic charging infrastructure
The type of charging strategy you select will dictate subsequent hardware and EV charging software requirements.
In each case, fleet operators will need to significantly modify current approaches to route planning and optimization to account for available EV charger types, pricing plans, and charge session durations. Then factor in extra variables such as truck loads, road inclination, and traffic congestion to determine the optimal charging schedule.
2. Procure the optimal hardware
There are plenty of options on the market if you decide to install charging infrastructure locally. So how do you make your choice?
For starters, consider the following variables:
- Daily travel distance, converted to daily kWh needed for each truck model
- Preferable charging speeds and times for different routes
- Utility tariffs for private charging vs public charging
Then think where you are ready to make tradeoffs. Do you want to balance speed vs price? Should you operate a longer route where cheaper public infrastructure is available versus a shorter route that you could possibly cover on one charge (if all fares well and there is no congestion)?
Don’t forget that the above calculations will have to be done for all types of electric trucks you have, since their capacities vary.
Next comes the question of AC (Level 2) vs DC (Level 3) charging: which one should you pick?
DC charging stations are blazing fast, but they also cost more to install and operate. Worried whether your utility company can pull it off? A 2021 study by the US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that 78% to 86% of state-wide distribution substations can supply enough energy for a fleet of 100 eTrucks with 100 kW/vehicle charging.
Still, the same study points out that using mixed chargers (AC and DC) is a smarter option for fleet operators. Putting docked vehicles on slower charging and reserving DCs for mid-route recharging operators can reduce the risks of grid overload and save some operational costs.
Similar to fuel management, effective charging boils down to finding the sweetest price point.
Regardless of whether it’s AC or DC power, when you have dwell time, slower is always better. It’s more cost-effective from a hardware standpoint, and it’s more cost-effective from an electric standpoint.
Partnering with other e-trucking companies or similar organizations is another option for procuring hardware. This is a solid strategy for co-funding larger infrastructure projects for mid-route charging.
For instance, in 2021, Volvo Group, Daimler Truck, and the Traton Group signed a joint venture agreement to develop a public charging network of at least 1,700 charge points for heavy-duty long-haul electric trucks across Europe. That’s an interesting move, as it also allows the alliance to reduce their dependence on third parties (oil and gas companies moving into EV charging, tech startups). Also, public EV infrastructure ownership gives the group a way to purpose other monetization operations, from charging partners to selling power back to the grid.
Whether you plan to install private EV charge points or co-build public fleet charging solutions with others, check that your hardware supports the OCPP standard.
OCPP, short for Open Charge Point Protocol, is an interoperability standard adopted by most market leaders. It allows different EV charge station users to remotely access the station’s backend software and collect data about each charging session, reservations, and updates. Moreover, OCPP has stellar security standards for user authorization and supports load balancing and smart charging.
But the best part is that OCPP is vendor-agnostic. Charging infrastructure operators can run any type of EV charging software on top of OCPP-compliant hardware and change the network based on your preferences.
3. Develop an EV fleet charging management solution
Once you’ve got your network of electric truck charging stations installed, you need a convenient management interface similar to the one your telematics service provider currently gives you.
At the very basic level, you need three things:
- Visibility into all charging operations for stations in the network
- Remote access to charging stations or updates, tuning, and patching
- Direct control over charging schedules and strategies for different types of trucks
In practice, however, the list of requirements for electric vehicle charging station solutions is even longer. Why? Because many fleet managers choose to blend electric charging infrastructure management with EV fleet management so they can easily juxtapose charging needs/costs with route length and better coordinate charging schedules for different assets.
Consider adding the following features:
- EV route builder and optimization module that helps develop optimal routes around available private/public stations and destinations
- Fleet charging coordination unit to orchestrate electric truck charging priorities at hub locations based on the upcoming schedule
- Charging cost management analytics to help you locate opportunities for cost optimization, plus improve pricing at any public charging location
- Remote charging station diagnostics to ensure high availability of all public stations and perform timely maintenance when needed
- Collection of session charging insights to verify the state and efficacy of hardware located outside of your premises as well as to track the battery state of your vehicles
Collecting EV charging analytics is particularly important if you operate unmanaged EV stations. A recent study by Sacramento Municipal Utility District found that suboptimal charging can lead to a fifth of local service transformers being overloaded by 2030 unless operators take charge (pun intended).
A robust analytics system can help you detect potential points of failure, suboptimal use, and conflicts in charging stations — then rectify them. Adding predictive analytics capabilities on top can also help you develop better operating plans by predicting usage and charging patterns in advance.
4. Incorporate a smart energy management solution
Energy cost management and optimization will drive long-term cost efficiency for EVs and increase the payback period for infrastructure investments.
But to get those quick returns on your electric vehicle charging technology investments, you’ll have to master the art of energy arbitrage:
In California, electricity costs for charging fleets could be up or down 400% in a single day. And there are something like 2,000 electric utilities across the country, all with their own individual tariff structures, time-of-use schedules, demand charge rates, and whatnot. So, it’s highly complex—it’s like going to a gas station and it could be $3 a gallon, or it could be $12 a gallon.
Energy tariffs are highly dynamic and depend on the utility provider, geographic region, energy source, special discounts, government subsidies, etc. Learning to leverage this wide spectrum of price point differences has the potential to save EV fleet managers some $4.4 billion in operating costs.
Apart from brokering deals from multiple partners and using EV fast charging technology only during off-peak times, bigger players are eying up even more sizable savings by cutting utility suppliers out of the equation.
Tesla set the trend of building solar panel canopies for its EV charging stations. European EV charging station operator Fastned relies on proprietary wind and solar power generators at its locations to retain more profits.
Finally, you have the option to offset your energy bill via V2G (vehicle to grid) power trading. V2G compatible vehicles can discharge electricity back to the network when the demand is high. This way, you can earn back some cash on your idle (but fully charged) fleet assets. French multinational electric utility EDF already pitches such an option to business fleet operators.
5. Introduce intelligent battery management
Maximum EV battery capacities and progressive battery degradation over time remain two major market constraints.
Driving behavior, climate, and use of different charging types (not to mention the age of batteries) affect battery health. Issues related to charging are offset by manufacturers to some extent with state of charge (SOC) buffers. These prevent drivers from operating a vehicle at near full or near empty capacity.
Still, due to the novelty of the technology, manufacturers cannot yet give 100% guarantees of battery longevity.
However, battery life is something fleet managers can investigate and prolong using emerging technology such as predictive analytics for battery performance forecasting and digital battery twins.
For instance, Twaice collects data from a vehicle’s battery management system (BMS) such as voltage and temperature to assess its operating conditions. Then the team creates digital twins and runs simulations of battery performance under different conditions. The obtained predictive insights can be used to determine battery aging prospects, plus develop better battery technology in the future.
Similar analytics systems can be developed in-house to track battery life across the asset fleet to determine which factors result in premature aging and to schedule timely maintenance.
6. Integrate with other EV management components
Finally, you charge an EV fleet to make it go places.
To minimize the idle time, you can integrate your EV charging application with other EV fleet management systems such as:
- Routing system
- Fleet monitoring system
These systems contain important EV telematics data — from road elevation to traffic congestion — that will help you estimate your true range needs and build a charging schedule around them.
Compared to traditional cars, EVs also contain more electronics under the hood that you can tap into to interpret the vehicle’s behavior:
Average car semiconductor content by powertrain ($)
By analyzing data from onboard EV computers, you can learn how different driving habits and road conditions affect EV ranges and improve your planning.
After all, an EV with a dead battery can’t be towed to the nearest charge point (as this damages the motors). Real-time alerts about battery performance can help managers plan better routes and provide instructions to drivers if the charge gets critically low.
If industries were uncertain about electric vehicle prospects in the 2010s, in the 2020s most can’t get on board fast enough.
Automakers like GM, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz, among others, are trying to catch up with Tesla in terms of electric car ranges and performance efficiencies, mostly achieved through a smart combination of onboard chips and customized software.
Similarly, it feels that those who are now on the sidelines of EV charging infrastructure for electric trucks will soon kick themselves for not acting faster. When even oil companies are game, the demand and profitability of operating EV charging infrastructure will only increase.
Contact Intellias if you’d like to receive a technical feasibility assessment of your EV charging station business model and get advice on developing solutions.