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Fleets

Top 5 Transit Fleet Electrification Challenges & How to Overcome Them

By

Won Moon Joo

November 8, 2022

Across the developed world, many cities and public transit agencies have committed to zero-emission electric vehicles (EVs).

For example, New York City’s MTA plans to replace all of its 5,800 buses with zero-emission vehicles by 2040, starting with 60 battery-powered electric buses across 5 depots in 2023.

There are multiple benefits of electrifying fleet vehicles, including:

  • Improved air quality
  • Reduced noise pollution
  • Fewer carbon emissions.

At the moment, most of the transit agencies are running in the pilot phase of transitioning to EVs. For instance, the District of Columbia department of transportation has recently completed a pilot in which they ran 14 electric buses and a report detailing the results has been published.

In this article, we’ll look at how to overcome the challenges you may face when electrifying transit vehicles.

1. Required Duty Cycle for EV buses

Challenges

  • Range anxiety Range anxiety refers to the concern that the bus may not have enough power to reach all of its destinations. 
  • Delays – Charging must be managed carefully to ensure that all buses are ready to go at their destination time. Transit buses run to strict schedules and delays will affect customer satisfaction and can result in penalties for operators.
  • Battery performance Weather conditions can affect battery performance if extra air conditioning or heating is required.

Average operating range transit fleet

Solutions

A good Charging Management System (CMS) gives transit operators full visibility and more control over their charging operations to tackle the challenges. A CMS such as Ampcontrol helps to:

  • Integrate vehicle telematics – enables vehicle visibility and tracking.
  • Tackle battery degradation – apply charging rules, such as trying to avoid overcharging or over-depleting the battery (i.e. avoid >80% and <20%).
  • Increase EV range – reduce the amount of charge spent on climate control through vehicle preconditioning so that battery energy is not spent on HVAC, and heating/cooling is done while the bus is still charging.

2. Charging infrastructure space and site power constraints

Challenges

  • Charging capacity – charging infrastructure needs to fit a number of buses, as well as provide enough power to use chargers.
  • Lack of space – charging sites can be quite space-constrained, making it hard to charge buses as needed.
  • Choosing the right chargers – selecting the correct charging delivery system for your operations can be difficult. There are three main types of charging delivery system:
    • Inductive: Wireless charging which uses the principle of electromagnetic induction to transmit electrical power through the air as a magnetic field.
    • Wired charging: Standard plug charging which involves physically connecting the vehicle to the charger via a cable.
    • Pantograph: Automatically lowers and raises a pantograph to charge the vehicle via a connector on the roof.
  • Utility infrastructure issues – the existing bus depot may not have enough power to charge all the buses.
  • Complicated scheduling – charging times may affect where certain vehicles are charged and the order in which they leave the depot the next day.
Types of charging for electric transit bus

Solutions

  • Yard management
    • Create a yard management strategy to monitor buses and charging operations and create a detailed schedule.
    • Set up alerts and updates to warn managers and operational staff when certain vehicles are not charging or risk being delayed.
  • CMS system to pre-schedule buses
    • In the case of space constraints, drivers may need to park specific vehicles with certain chargers, based on the vehicle schedule.

3. Utility Issues

Challenges

  • Cost of electricity – utility bills can be extremely expensive. 
  • Energy price rises – energy prices can be volatile, making it difficult for the finance department to budget correctly.
  • Complex utility programs – utility programs can be complex and may adversely affect charging operations if not specified correctly.
  • Unsuitable infrastructure – if the utility infrastructure needs upgrading, this can considerably slow down fleet electrification projects, up to several years in some cases.

Utilities

Solutions

  • Liaise with utility companies – transit authorities need to engage with utilities to understand how the charging of their buses will work. Items for discussion include electricity rates, demand charges, electricity reliability, and sometimes infrastructure upgrades.
  • Provide data to utilities – utilities want to know how their load profiles will change as the number of EVs increases. Ampcontrol’s simulation tools can help to provide the necessary analysis.
  • Use demand response programs –  demand response programs allow you to benefit from large energy storage systems. An Energy Management System (EMS) can evaluate the effects of the program as well as automatically optimize bus charging when executed.

4. Workplace Training

Challenges

  • Safety considerations – charging involves high voltage, which may lead to accidents or injury.
  • Complexity of maintenance – mechanics need to be retrained on how to maintain electric buses, which are completely different to older combustion engines. 
  • Cost of retraining – plugging in vehicles and charging operations will require training of staff and fleet operators.
  • Driver retraining – drivers need to understand the differences between normal ICE vehicle driving and EVs. Drivers will need to learn energy efficient driving, using skills such as regenerative braking and moderating the climate control to preserve battery power and increase the range.

workplace training EV chargers

Solutions

  • Fault monitoring and alerts – install a system that alerts charging operators and vehicle drivers to any errors with hardware or software. 
  • Preconditioning – should reduce the amount of charge used on HVAC.
  • Telematics integration – collect vehicle data to help highlight any inefficiencies. 
  • Energy management – the facility manager can access an energy management dashboard to to see the data, monitor usage, and make more informed decisions.

5. Interoperability of vehicles, charging hardware, and software

Challenges

  • Charger and vehicle incompatibility – incompatible chargers may cause damage through overheating or may slow down the charging process.
  • Integrating multiple software systems – a variety of software needs to be integrated, such as vehicle dispatch software, fleet management software, vehicle telematics software, charging platforms, etc. There needs to be a reliable connection between the different systems that work together well.

charger and electric vehicle compatability

Solution

  • Testing before purchasing – before full implementation, run a pilot to ensure interoperability between all systems and identify errors before real operations.
  • Use OCPP compatible software – make sure that your software and chargers use OCPP, the standard communication protocol for chargers. This also makes it easier to add chargers at a later date and handle software updates, as OCPP ensures interoperability. 

Conclusion

Over the next few decades, we will see more and more transit and public transport providers electrify their fleet, especially as there are incentives and programs to encourage it at the moment.

However, electrifying transit fleets doesn’t come without its challenges. 

The main issues for transit fleet managers are how to maintain a reliable service, keep costs down, and ensure that everything integrates smoothly.

Smart charging software such as Ampcontrol can help you to overcome all of these challenges, and more. Get in touch today to find out more.

EV Charging Management Made Simple

Ampcontrol is a cloud-based software that seamlessly connects to charging networks, vehicles, fleet systems, and other software systems. No hardware needed, just a one-time integration.

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