Powering the Electric Fleet: Increased Charge and Range

The panelists for this discussion were:

Brian Nelson, Engineering Manager – ABC Companies

Brad Carson, Director of Sales and Marketing – Complete Coach Works

Sam Bourne, Content and Campaign Specialist – EVBox

BUSRide conducted a roundtable discussion with some of the leading minds in all-electric vehicles (EV) and zero-emission infrastructure, centered on significant technological developments; spec’ing and purchasing advice; developing scalable fleet charging plans; and “future-proofing” investments in sustainable technology.

Please briefly summarize your company’s capabilities and expertise in zero-emission propulsion.

Brad Carson: As pioneers in the transit industry, Complete Coach Works (CCW) combines its extensive experience with market research to provide the latest technologies for all transit applications. The company’s expertise in zero emission propulsion began with the desire to provide its clients with a clean, cost-effective, and viable alternative to fossil fuel. Working with its sister company, Transit Sales International, CCW developed its own system by taking an existing low floor transit bus and rebuilding it as a battery electric unit. The resulting ZEPS (Zero Emission Propulsion System) bus is an economical option for bus operators looking to start an electric fleet. CCW continually researches and evaluates the latest developments to improve quality and operating flexibility while reducing costs and environmental impact.

Brian Nelson: ABC Companies, Van Hool and Proterra each bring their strengths to our new zero-emission, Van Hool CX45E All Electric Bus project. ABC Companies is a proven leader in bringing advanced Van Hool equipment to North American operators for the past 5 decades. We back our products with a robust after sale program including parts support, maintenance and service programs and customer warranty support. We’re excited to be expanding our exclusive Van Hool equipment lineup with an electrified version of the best-selling CX45 model that will offer North American fleets integrated world-class technology in a zero-emission product. Van Hool has pioneered zero-emissions technology in both North America and Europe. The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) located in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, has used Van Hool A300L hydrogen fuel cell buses in the fleet since 2010. The first-generation buses featured a UTC Power fuel cell power system and an advanced lithium ion energy storage system by EnerDel. Van Hool fully integrated the hybrid design using a Siemens hybrid system. AC Transit is currently operating thirteen third-generation fuel cell buses which feature a lighter-weight redesigned chassis, powered by a 120kW fuel cell power system, built by UTC Power of Connecticut, and an advanced lithium ion energy storage system by EnerDel of Indiana. Hydrogen tanks on the roof give the bus a range of 220 to 240 miles, and batteries recharged during braking can provide extra power for acceleration and climbing steep grades. Proterra is a leader in zero-emission technology, and has partnered with ABC Companies and Van Hool under their Proterra-powered program to develop the All Electric Van Hool CX45E. Proterra designs, builds, deploys and maintains proprietary electric buses, batteries, chargers and charging infrastructure that are purpose-built for heavy-duty electric vehicle application in both the transit and motorcoach markets. Proterra electric vehicle technology has been proven on the roads through more than 8 million miles of service in transit, enabling record-breaking range and industry-leading energy efficiency.

Sam Bourne: At ENGIE North America we are striving to make a better world for our customers. ENGIE North America manages a range of energy businesses in the U.S. and Canada, including electricity generation, cogeneration, and energy storage; retail natural gas and electricity sales, and comprehensive services that help customers run facilities more efficiently and optimize energy use and expense. Nearly 100 percent of the company’s power generation portfolio is low carbon or renewable. ENGIE’s capabilities have expanded to the Electric Vehicle and Electric Mobility sector via EVBox.

EVBox is the leading global manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations and charging management software, with over 75,000 ports installed across 55 countries worldwide. We offer everything from level 2 residential charging to high power DC charging—and everything in between.

Our mission is simple—to make the transition to electric mobility a seamless one. We proudly advocate for open standards throughout the EV industry and strive to create an EV charging ecosystem that gives drivers total confidence to go anywhere.

In your estimation, what are the most significant technological developments that have recently affected the charge and range of electric buses? Specifically, what does this mean for your customers and zero-emission technology adopters?

Nelson: Three key innovations that come to mind are –

Improvements in battery power density are making electric vehicles a more viable option – Proterra’s E2 battery system’s compact, dense design enables industry-leading energy density, by volume and mass. Efficient energy storage enables improved range capabilities and thermally-controlled batteries keep the temperature consistent to maximize lifetime in any climate.

Thermal management software is a key development designed to ensure optimal charging and operation. Using a passively managed battery system can optimize capacity, reduce individual cell degradation, control temperature and ensure a full lifespan of battery operation. The Van Hool CX45E integrates Proterra’s E2 battery system which allows energy reserve to dynamically adjust over time for maximum performance and more than 70 sensors throughout each battery pack delivers continuous monitoring and diagnostics, enabling faster maintenance and service. Alerts, notifications and historical data give owners real-time data on performance, speed, distance traveled, energy-used and battery state of charge.

Standard chargers are also simplifying EV adaptation. Powering up the Van Hool CX45E at the depot will simply require plugging in a standard J1772-CCS Type 1 charger. Electric buses, utility vehicles and cars can all share the same standardized chargers. Additionally, charging times continue to reduce with improved charging capability and software.

Bourne: Improvements in battery technology have made electric buses a viable option in any market. Their capacity has skyrocketed and battery prices per kWh are lower than ever. It is substantially easier now to get an electric bus that will stay on the road for longer, meaning that the applications for these buses have expanded beyond being short-range shuttles and are now viable options for buses following any route.

The only caveat to having buses with larger battery capacities is that the amount of energy it takes to charge these buses is also going up. While previously a charging station with an output of 25-50 kW could charge a bus in two or three hours, now it may take that same station eight or more. For situation like this, it makes sense to install what we call a High-Powered DC charging station (HPC) like our EVBox UltronIQ, which can be configured to output at 350 kW—fast enough to charge even the largest bus battery in under two hours.

Carson: The Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification (WAVE) is among the industry’s most significant technological developments. WAVE is the premiere developer of inductive charging solutions for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. Through an embedded charging pad placed in the pavement, WAVE technology transfers power through the air to a receiving pad mounted on the vehicle’s undercarriage. This development reduces the amount of on-board storage needed during operation.

The pad is sturdy enough to be run over all day without the damage, eye-sore, and risk associated with above ground charging equipment. High power wireless charging allows vehicles to effectively double their range. The increased range capabilities eliminate customers’ concerns and enable them to complete the rigorous duty cycles associated with around-the-clock operations.

Agencies / companies have numerous options for electric buses – even a single manufacturer may have multiple options available with varying charging times and ranges. What purchasing advice can you offer to help them assess their own business needs, and match those to the right zero-emission technology?

Bourne: Measure twice and cut once. Make sure you are aware of the distances each bus will need to drive on a single charge, and how long it will take to recharge when parked. Factors like battery capacity affect not only the available range of the bus, but also how long it will need to recharge.

While not an exact number, electric buses consume somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 kWh of battery for every mile driven. So, a bus with a battery capacity of 200 kWh can go roughly 100 miles before needing to recharge. Depending on the output of the charging station, this same bus could take anywhere from 40 minutes (at 350 kW) to eight hours (at 25 kW) to charge up.

Having high-powered DC charging stations (150 – 350 kW) is a great way to cut down idle time. That said, for many situations, a few Level 2 (7.4 -19.6 kW) charging stations, like the EVBox BusinessLine, can be great to add in conjunction with your DC charging stations. This way, you can make sure all your buses are receiving some level of charging, even while they are waiting to connect to the faster DC charging station. This strategy will take a sizeable bite out of overall charging times. Not to mention the fact that you can install roughly ten Level 2 ports for the same price as a single DC.  You can even go the route of installing nothing but Level 2, provided your buses have an idle time that is long enough. Just bear in mind that, for charging a fleet of buses, the need for DC charging will become inevitable.

Carson: When procuring electric buses, agencies must conduct an in-depth route analysis. Possessing a clear understanding of the routes traveled during typical operation allows clients to determine range requirements. Upon range determination, battery and charging infrastructure will need to be assessed to fit the unique needs of the agency. A reliable electric vehicle, such as our ZEPS option, combined with a premium charging solution, offered by our WAVE system, will eliminate range anxiety and maximize vehicle efficiency.

Nelson: Understanding the routes and types of routes a customer wants to run is primary to creating a scalable charging system. ABC and Proterra can work with customers to identify the right energy levels as well as charging solutions to meet the needs of their specific routes. Business owners should expect their EV provider to create a route simulation which utilizes comparative data to determine the routes best suited for electrification today and as they scale. It’s important to capture and analyze measurements such as ambient temperature, grade, acceleration/deceleration, HVAC system loads and auxiliary accessory loads, which can have a significant impact on mileage per charge projections. Charging time and mileage used per charge can vary greatly. Matching the on-board energy storage to specific route requirements, total daily mileage and layover options should all be evaluated.  Customers should also evaluate the space they have available to install charging systems, and assess charging systems for flexibility and the ability to be installed in space-constrained parking areas.

Additionally, customers should carefully consider the batteries being used in the vehicles they are considering, and ask manufacturers for a list of test performed on the batteries to ensure they are held to the highest quality and safety standards.  Another factor to evaluate is the usable capacity of the battery compared to the nameplate capacity – limiting usable capacity is a best practice to ensure the longevity of the battery and maximum range throughout the lifetime of the vehicle.  An intelligent Battery Management System is necessary to dynamically adjust the usable capacity over time and ensure the longest range possible, as well as ensure continuous monitoring for safety and preventative maintenance.

How would you advise potential customers to begin creating and implementing a fleet charging plan / schedule? Please keep scalability in mind.

Nelson: Again, an effective fleet charging plan starts with route planning, and how each coach is operated during that route. Modeling the charging infrastructure for fleets also starts with an initial analysis and preliminary design of depot infrastructure, using informed data from the route simulation analysis. Charging speed and consumption, hours of operation, charging points, power suppliers and more all factor in to creating the right fit for each operation. The Proterra team can evaluate a fleet’s daily power needs to determine the most fitting chargers to meet route requirements. Comprehensive planning is critical to implementing the optimal charging infrastructure to meet an owner’s current and future zero-emission vehicle goals. Working with the local utility to plan a charging infrastructure installation is best done as early as possible, so the charging infrastructure is ready to power their fleet once vehicles arrive. Fleet owners should seek out a provider that will help them pinpoint the best solution before EV implementation and has extensive experience installing high-power charging systems for heavy-duty electric fleets.

Carson: Among the first steps in creating an effective charging plan is to reduce the need to charge the vehicles as often. We advise customers to implement a scalable and viable solution to overcome battery limitations. This can be achieved by transitioning from plug-in electric buses to technology, such as the WAVE system. WAVE reduces the need for overnight charging and allows agencies to operate their systems from morning to night. The change also helps agencies to increase plan flexibility and eliminate the need to alter their rigorous schedules.

Bourne: In general, you’ll want to plan on charging your fleet at night since rates tend to be cheaper. You should also talk with your energy provider about any special Time of Use rates for charging EVs at night—this can help you save even more money.

The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out how many buses you’ll have returning to the depot at a single time. Are you able to stagger their charging times or will they all be going out of service at the same time? This will determine how many charging stations you’ll need, or if you’ll need someone to rotate the charging sessions at night.

Here’s a scenario—you have a fleet of eight buses, each with a battery capacity of 300 kWh. They all arrive back with their battery almost entirely depleted.

You also have one High-Power DC charging station with an output of 300 kW. At this type of station, it will take each bus exactly one hour to charge back to full. Eight buses at one hour apiece would take a total of eight hours, with someone present to rotate the buses every hour.

If you add another High-Power DC charging station, you cut that time down to four hours. Another station, and you’re down to three.

So, in order to calculate accurately how much charging infrastructure you’ll need, first you need to understand how many buses you need to charge up, how long it’ll take, and in what kind of time frame you need them charged. 

What considerations should companies / agencies take into account when installing charging infrastructure?

Carson: Agencies should heavily consider a scalable option such as in-route charging. In-route charging eliminates the range versus capacity tradeoff that remains the primary challenge in electrified transportation. It also eliminates the need for dangerous third rail power systems or impractical and cost-prohibitive overhead wire charging systems. Wireless power technology revolutionizes vehicle electrification by dramatically reducing battery size, vehicle weight, and cost.

Bourne: Can your panel handle the load needed to send power to all the stations you require? When it comes to installing DC charging stations, you are dealing with some serious voltage. There is a very good chance that you’ll need to upgrade your infrastructure in order to supply energy to all your new electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE). Also, if you are making any upgrades or additions to your facility and even thinking about going electric, it is in your best interest to upgrade your conduit size now to further cut down on future installation costs.

With that in mind, it can be very useful to see if there are any rebates or incentives in your area that you can apply for to help offset the cost of your electrification project. A lot of governments and utilities are offering large sums of money to help locations make the transition to electric mobility. Check with the Alternative Fuel Data Center (AFDC) to see about any rebates that might work for you.

Nelson: Scalability should be top of mind during the initial infrastructure investment. It’s easier and more economical to add more charging depot modules later if the proper infrastructure is already in place. A charging infrastructure installation requires great expertise. Owners and agencies should consider a provider who will work with them to understand their energy needs and short and long-term goals for EV fleet integration. From coordinating with their local power supplier to understanding their power needs, taking advantage of off-peak rates and more, it is important to understand how the entire energy eco-system will work to ensure optimized charging infrastructure utilization
and investment.

How can agencies / companies future-proof their zero-emission investments and operations?

Bourne: Take the long view. Don’t think about what you need to get by today, but plan for what you’ll need in five or ten years too. More of your fleet will become electric, not less. Give yourself room to expand, and the ability to increase your charging output. Stations that cap out at 50 kW may suffice for the time being, but when battery capacity increases again and more electric buses are added to your fleet, you’ll wish you were able to simply run more power through your existing infrastructure and not have to rip and replace your old ones.

With a DC charging set up from EVBox, you can install charging stations today capable of an output anywhere from 50-350 kW, have them set to output on the lower end of the spectrum (if that is all the energy you require at this time) and later have them reconfigured to output at a higher rate—no hardware replacement necessary.

Nelson: Value preservation, support, innovation, expertise.

Zero-emission technology is at a pivotal point. With stricter emissions regulations and increasing commitments to carbon reduction, the future of zero-emission adoption is assured. EV systems offer many benefits when utilized in appropriate route schemes. Eliminating emissions and fossil fuel consumption, enhanced fleet management via system monitoring, maintenance predictability, and reduced parts overhead are all tangible, measurable results that can impact fleet operations immediately and in the long-term. From a value-preservation perspective, owners should take into account the need for certified and trained service technicians for EV fleet support. ABC’s after-sale fleet maintenance support programs are built around each owner’s individual fleet profile and needs. Our maintenance strategies are tailored to support highly-diverse fleet compositions that include a full spectrum of equipment makes, models and drivetrain platforms. Together with recognized industry innovators Van Hool and Proterra, we are excited to shift the paradigm with the introduction of the forthcoming Van Hool CX45E All Electric Bus – offering companies a technologically-advanced product built for performance and more importantly scalability. Owners must be mindful in choosing a provider with the expertise to evaluate the full scope and scale before EV implementation. Aligning with providers who understand an owner’s long-term goals can help companies to optimize their zero-emission investments today, and prepare for future growth.

A key component to future-proofing an electric vehicle deployment is utilizing technology that adheres to universal charging standards, in order to ensure interoperability and not lock a customer into a single provider for many years to come.  The Van Hool CX45E is compliant with J1772 industry standards, with the ability to charge using any universally standardized charging system.

When working with your local energy provider, it is also important to install the transmission equipment needed not just to power your fleet now, but also in the future. Infrastructure upgrades are often needed when installing high-power charging systems, and although you may only be installing a handful of chargers today, it’s important to work with your utility provider to ensure the proper equipment is installed to handle additional chargers as you scale your zero-emission fleet in the future.