Electrifying Your Fleet: Is Your Smart Charger Smart Enough?


If you’re involved with managing a commercial fleet of electric vehicles, you’ve probably heard about smart charging. But did you know when and how you charge your vehicles makes a big difference in whether shifting to EVs ends up actually saving you money? The reduced maintenance and operating costs and increased reliability of EVs offer significant benefits — and moving to an electrified fleet makes good business sense, particularly now that EVs are available in models ranging from light-duty passenger cars all the way to transit buses and delivery trucks. But while many of these vehicles have built-in “smart charging,” it’s important to understand that relying on smart chargers at the vehicle level could undermine many of the benefits of having an EV fleet and end up increasing your operating costs instead of reducing them.

How is that possible? It’s because most onboard smart chargers are designed to optimize charging for single vehicles. The two inputs that matter most in determining when to charge are: 1. How much charge the battery can accept, and 2. The cheapest time of day to charge based on your utility’s “time-of-use” rate schedule. The challenge for fleets is that as EV adoption grows, more smart chargers will be telling vehicles to charge at the same time — when electricity rates are lowest.

What happens when everyone charges at once? A new — and costly — peak demand is created. Most individual energy consumers don’t have to worry too much about demand charges, but commercial energy customers’ electricity rates are set based on their energy use during times of peak demand. In addition, a company with an onsite fleet of charging vehicles may have other energy-intensive processes happening during the charging period that also need to be considered.

PowerFlex offers Adaptive Load Management® algorithms that support smart charging and consider not only the cost of electricity and the needs of individual assets in the fleet, but also facility-wide technical and business constraints. This integrated approach can also reduce the cost of infrastructure upgrades needed on the utility side by optimizing charging behavior and integrating onsite solar and/or storage infrastructure, which saves time as well as money.

Electricity markets are designed in part around price signals intended to incentivize or discourage certain behaviors, but these signals won’t help optimize facility-wide demand unless all of the facility’s assets are coordinated. While the impact of charging just a few EVs at your facility may be minimal, as EV adoption grows, it can quickly become a significant load to manage.

Consider a situation in which you have a fleet of EV work vehicles, and several of your employees also have longer-range EVs for their personal vehicle. If all the fleet vehicles return to the facility and plug in at 5:00 p.m., you might have both fleet vehicles and employee vehicles charging at the same time until employees finish their day and take their vehicles home.

Even if onboard smart chargers in your fleet vehicles know to wait until midnight when electricity prices are lower to start charging, if they all start charging at once, it’s likely to create a spike in electricity usage that will inadvertently push up your demand charges and result in higher energy costs.

Taking an integrated approach becomes even more important if you consider a future in which you may have to manage not only on-road commercial vehicles, light-duty fleet assets, and light-duty workforce assets, but also electric forklifts and off-road equipment. Facilities need to be ready for an electricity supply that includes more renewables, and a range of corresponding rate adjustments designed to guide consumer behavior.

Of course, advances in technology and falling costs aren’t the only factors driving businesses to adopt electrified fleets — several state incentives are sweetening the deal. California has been a leader in aggressively incentivizing electrified fleet adoption, but as programs become mandated, valuable incentives are slowly but surely being replaced with regulations. Fleet operators should act now to take full advantage of programs like the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project and the On-Road Heavy-Duty Voucher Incentive Program (VIP), which provide funding support for fleet operators.

Smart business operators are always looking for ways to drive down costs and boost profits, and investing in an electric fleet is still a great way to achieve these outcomes — as well as a host of other benefits. But as with most investments, there are risks. To be successful, fleet managers must consider their businesses’ total energy profile, and they’ll need more than the standard onboard technology in each vehicle.

PowerFlex works with fleet owners to understand their comprehensive energy profile and build a solution that protects their investment through Adaptive Load Management. Rely on us to be your energy management partner, while also helping to mitigate your risks and providing practical strategies for your success in electrification.