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Fleet electrification, from theory to practice

Quebec has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying transport is a mandatory step toward this goal, but transitioning from traditional fuels to clean energy presents several challenges for organizations.

To help demystify the problems and solutions to them, the Agence de mobilité durable hosted a panel on September 29 to discuss fleet electrification, from theory to practice. Here’s a report.

The event, hosted by columnist Marc-André Carignan, brought together four professionals with complementary expertise:

  • Alexandre Bonaldi, Senior Consulting Director, Energy & Environment at Sia Partners, which supports organizations in transitioning their vehicle fleets to electric
  • Sarah Houde, CEO of Propulsion Québec, the industrial cluster for electric and smart transportation
  • Sarah Houde, CEO of Propulsion Québec, the industrial cluster for electric and smart transportation
  • Jordan Charbonneau, Director of Operations at InnovHQ, a Hydro-Québec subsidiary that offers charging solutions

Laurent Chevrot, general manager at Agence de mobilité durable, introduced the panel discussion by explaining how the Agency started electrifying its monitoring vehicle fleet by testing out various electric cars, low-speed vehicles, bikes and scooters. The other panel members then discussed some of the main questions organizations should ask themselves when considering a switch to electric power.

Knowing your needs

The first thing organizations need to do is identify their actual range and charging needs. Observing a representative sample of fleet vehicles in action and analyzing telemetry data can help them predict their real daily energy expenditure and distribution needs. They may be in for a few surprises though. For example, the members of a taxi cooperative were sure that they drove more than 250 km a day when, in fact, they averaged only 160 km.

To help organizations choose the right charging stations for their needs, Jordan Charbonneau recommended “looking at duty cycles, distances covered, route elevation data and downtime.” Level 2 chargers are cost-effective and can be perfectly fine for vehicles that can be left to charge overnight or can operate on a partial charge the next day. While Level 3 chargers provide a faster charge, they tend to be more expensive and require more upkeep. “Set aside a maintenance budget,” said Frédérick Prigge. He also suggested having an annual plan for replacing cables and, in the case of level 3 chargers, power modules.

As for the issue of interoperability between different models of chargers and vehicles, Prigge argued that concerns are exaggerated. “Everything is almost fully standardized when it comes to cars,” he explained, adding that heavy vehicles should avoid public charging stations and stick to using their own organizations’ charging infrastructure.

Adapting an electric fleet to Quebec’s climate

So what about winter? Alexandre Bonaldi suggested that this issue, too, is usually overly emphasized. He noted that fleet vehicles rarely operate more than 50 to 100 km a day. Winter’s effect on the range of an electric car that travels so little is a non-issue.

While colder weather does impact charging speeds, its effect on battery performance is a myth. “The vehicle is just using more power,” Prigge explained; for example, energy is required to heat the cabin. Gas-powered vehicles face the same issue.

Making the transition work for your bottom line

While the pathway to electrification requires considerable capital investment, Sarah Houde noted that existing government programs have now expanded their scope to include heavier vehicles. Alternative solutions may also help shoulder the burden. “Some investment firms are buying up vehicle floats and charging stations and renting them out,” said Houde.

Making the transition gradual can help defray costs. One winning strategy is to start with one electric vehicle or two to help the staff get used to them before making the full switch. A calendar can then be set up to replace vehicles in the fleet according to their age.

All in all, electric fleets are more cost-effective in the long run. Charbonneau noted that, thanks to its publicly owned distribution system and resources, Quebec has low energy costs. Electric vehicles also have fewer moving parts and require less upkeep. InnovHQ customers have access to a shared stock of spare parts to help minimize their company’s costs and service interruptions.

Securing supply and skills

One of the major short-term challenges of electrification may be the lack of available vehicles. The industry is struggling to meet the demand for electric cars. Although there is currently a dearth of options for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, new manufacturers are quickly popping up to fill the market.

Qualified staff will also be needed to manage and maintain future electric fleets. Thankfully, resources are growing: Municipal governments have started sharing the expertise they gained from operating their own fleets. Cégep de Saint-Jérôme currently offers an electric vehicle technology program. Hydro-Québec developed a series of useful guides on the subject. Propulsion Québec developed similar guides specifically for school bus fleets. Despite all this, Houde feels that more efforts are needed in post-secondary institutions. “Thousands of jobs are going to be created here by 2035.”

Stay tuned!

A look at the panel

Networking cocktail reception


Le panel