EVs Are Not Just For Passengers. Here’s What Big EVs Can Do For You  - Smart Energy Decisions

Energy Efficiency, Commercial, Industrial  -  August 23, 2019 - By Caitlin Marquis, Advanced Energy Economy

Here’s What Big EVs Can Do For You 

While electric vehicle aficionados swoon over the latest addition to Tesla’s passenger vehicle line, companies, cities, and school districts are quietly taking advantage of new model offerings in the medium- and heavy-duty segment. And they’re doing so for very practical reasons: cost savings, performance advantages, and sustainability benefits. Let’s take a look at the most common uses of these EVs gone big, and explore why fleet owners are making the switch to electric — and then circle back to consider the lessons learned by these early adopters.

Municipal Transit Fleets. Cities large and small are making the switch to all-electric transit bus fleets to save money, reduce local air and noise pollution, and meet sustainability goals. Some cities that have made initial investments in electric buses are doubling down. After its first two EV buses resulted in $24,000 in annual fuel savings and $30,000 in annual maintenance savings, the Chicago Transit Authority put in an order for an additional 20. Smaller cities have not been left out: Park City, Utah, selected EV buses to replace seven diesels that were ready for retirement. The city was able to leverage federal and state funding to lower the upfront investment and chose electric models because they are “cheaper, quieter, and cleaner.” The city will eventually run the busses on 100% renewable energy under its sustainability initiatives.

Corporate delivery fleets. From mail to furniture to beer, local deliveries are being made by fleets that include a growing number of electric vehicles. Since re-introducing EVs into its fleet in 2001 (after a break since 1930), UPS has added more than 120 EVs to its U.S. operations. Why? According to UPS, the vehicles are quieter, operate for up to 75 miles on one charge, and produce zero tailpipe emissions, helping the company toward its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across ground operations globally by 12% and to source 40% of ground fuel from low-carbon or alternative fuels by 2025. Furthermore, the company’s acquisition of alternative-fueled vehicles is guided by a mandate to ensure cost neutrality, so the EVs it has invested in are break-even or cost-saving for the company. 

School buses. School districts across the country currently rely on fleets that are 95% diesel-fueled, but all-electric models are being added to fleets as older vehicles retire. At the Twin Rivers school district in Sacramento, Calif., a fleet of 25 electric buses brings several benefits: healthier air for students, new safety features, proven performance, cost savings, and noise reduction. The school district also worked with the local utility to develop a lower-cost off-peak charging rate. 

Long-haul trucking. A growing list of companies have paid deposits on electric and hydrogen-electric semis to meet their short- and long-haul trucking needs. Taking Tesla’s all-electric semi as one example, it promises multiple attractive benefits: 20% estimated savings per mile, a 500-mile range, 80,000-pound towing capability, a 20-second 0-to-60 mph acceleration when fully loaded, and a 65-mph speed up a 5% incline (compared to 45 mph for a typical diesel). Fleet owners clearly find these features attractive, with pre-orders of the truck creeping up to nearly 700, including 125 by UPS and 100 by Pepsi Co. alone. Given both fuel savings and operational savings, package delivery giant DHL estimates that it will make up for the higher upfront cost of its 10 pre-ordered Tesla semis over diesel vehicles in just two years. 

These very different applications share some common characteristics: Compared to their conventional counterparts, medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles provide performance improvements, deliver cost savings from lower fuel and maintenance costs, and offer a range of additional benefits that are extremely valuable for many fleet owners, including greenhouse gas emission reductions and lower local air and noise pollution. 

If you are thinking about making the switch, here are some pro tips from fleet owners that have already started their transition to an electric fleet: 

  • Target deployment to maximize operational benefits. “The locations where we put electric trucks first are where we’re able to fully utilize the battery range capability – a significant factor in the return on investments,” according to Patrick Brown, director of global sustainability at UPS.
  • Remember to factor in the maintenance savings. “The maintenance savings can be enormous as well… because the engines are much simpler in terms of the number of parts and the complexities of the parts,” Jim Monkmeyer, president, Transportation, at DHL Supply Chain told Reuters.
  • Experiment and see what works. “It doesn’t matter what the costs are if the new technology won’t work for the demanding UPS duty cycle… New technology must first be tested to see if it works. This is the first step in the process with a full understanding that cost plays a major role for future deployments,” says Bill Brentar, senior director of maintenance and engineering for transportation equipment at UPS.
  • Take advantage of incentives. “Because we are buying electric buses and our transit department is superb at navigating renewable energy grants, Park City is only paying $1 million and the other $4 million in cost is being covered by the Federal Transit Administration and UDOT [Utah Department of Transportation],” writes Steve Joyce of the Park City Council.
  • Work with electric suppliers to meet charging needs. “Charging up commercial vehicles with large battery packs will require a tremendous amount of power and support from local utilities,” according to Andreas Juretzka, director of e-mobility at Daimler Trucks North America.
  • Lean on your peers for help. “My phone and email ring off the hook, from all over the country. I talk directly to the school districts in New York City. I’ve talked to Duke Energy in North Carolina. I’ve talked to people in Wyoming and Southern California,” says Timothy Shannon, director of transportation for the Twin Rivers school district. 

We may still be a long way from a future where EV fleets are dominant, but that future is now tethered in the reality of existing trends. Given that the benefits of making the switch have been clearly demonstrated by different types of fleets across the country, the transition will only accelerate.


Caitlin Marquis is a Director at Advanced Energy Economy where she manages the policy engagement of the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, a coalition of leading companies that are working to expand their use of advanced energy. She leads the Buyers Group’s efforts on both regulatory and legislative engagement at the state, federal, and regional level. AEE recently published a fact sheet, Electrifying Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, which presents an overview of the advantages of electric MDVs and HDVs, for both vehicle owners and the public, available at aee.net.



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