Electrification of the transportation sector is one of the most significant levers available to dial back the production and emission of harmful climate-changing greenhouse gases, especially when electrification is focused on fleets instead of just individual drivers.
North Carolina policymakers, local governments and environmental groups have recently been making strides related to electric transportation, especially since the release of Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 in October of 2018.
In July 2020, Governor Cooper signed on to a memorandum of understanding with 15 states to electrify 100% of medium and heavy-duty vehicles in North Carolina by 2050.
Given the high level of interest in the topic of fleet electrification in the state and region, the North Carolina Clean Cities Coalitions and Plug-in NC planned and hosted a three-part webinar series to continue the conversation about electric drive applications in medium- and heavy-duty fleets. Held from July to October, each webinar focused on a different aspect of fleet electrification and featured expert panelists. Webinars were attended by a wide variety of professionals, including municipal fleet managers, environmental advocates and electric utility staff.
The first webinar covered applications of electric drive technologies in school and transit bus fleets highlighting the efforts Dominion Energy and Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA) has taken to deploy electric transit.
Triangle Clean Cities Coordinator, Caitlin Rose, provided the Clean Cities intro and facilitated the panel discussion, and Jacob Bolin of Plug-in NC gave an overview of the current landscape of heavy-duty EV deployment in NC.
Kate Staples, manager of Electrification for Dominion Energy in VA, began the panel discussion and gave a presentation about Dominions Pilot Electric School Bus Initiative, which began in 2019.
The project is currently in Phase 1 with 50 electric school buses deployed to 16 different school districts. Over 200 districts applied and 16 unique districts were selected, with each district receiving between 1 and 8 buses. The cost of these first 50 buses will be offset by Dominion.
Thomas Built Jouley buses will be used in the pilot program and will be operating on the road by the end of 2020. Due to the predictability of electric school buses’ daily operations, Dominion hopes to harness the vehicle to grid (V2G) capabilities of the buses when they are not in use.
In addition to the innovative technology applications, Dominion decided to pursue electric options due to the safety and public health impacts. Electric buses have zero tailpipe emissions so pose no health risk to children riding them and have the potential to improve local air quality.
GTA’s George Linney, transit systems analyst, and Jay Perkins, maintenance director, shared the benefits and lessons learned from one of the earliest electric bus deployments in NC. With a total of 16 Proterra electric transit buses, GTA possesses the largest EV transit fleet in the state and is second only to Philadelphia on the East Coast.
A majority of the purchased buses were funded with grant dollars, which made this otherwise cost-prohibitive purchase possible for the city. GTA’s buses have an average driving range of 130 miles, though Perkins noted that in perfect conditions it can be as high as 200 miles.
Since deploying these buses in early 2019, GTA has learned a lot about operating an electric transit fleet. Perkins explained that fleet managers considering deploying EV transit buses should focus on charging infrastructure (including multiple fast chargers centrally located in the transit service territory), ensuring adequate technician training with electric buses and adequately planning for future expansion of the bus depot. Perkins also emphasized the need to engage with the local electric utility to understand the near- and long-term infrastructure needs for expansion.
The second installment of the series covered purchasing and policy considerations of EVs for fleets and municipalities. Bill Eaker, the coordinator of Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition, began the webinar with an in-depth look at available EV funding opportunities in NC, including the Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement, the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, Clean Fuels Advanced Technology (CFAT) grants from NCSU’s Clean Energy Technology Center and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Low or No Emission Program Grants.
Duke Energy has a proposed an EV pilot program, portions of which are still pending approval at the NC Utilities Commission, which should add to this list if enacted.
Next, Mark McGrew of Lion Electric presented the company’s deployment of all-electric commercial vehicles and provided recommendations for fleets to consider when purchasing MD/HD electric vehicles.
High-level considerations include ensuring that electric drive is the best technology solution for your fleet, calculating the total cost of ownership of the vehicles, pursuing additional funding opportunities or grants, ensuring all necessary charging and electric infrastructure is installed prior to vehicle delivery and confirming that fleet operators and drivers have been properly trained with the vehicles.
Fleet managers are encouraged to work with OEMs, many of whom are equipped to help organizations make the transition to electric products. McGrew concluded by stating, “electric is not just coming, it’s here. OEMs like Lion are ready to help & meet the needs you have for you to make that transformation.”
Lastly, Chris Davis, fleet manager for the City of Charlotte, walked webinar participants through Charlotte’s path towards electrification of transportation. Since 2010, Charlotte has focused on their commitment to safeguarding the environment and their goal to power City facilities and fleets by 100% zero-carbon sources by 2030.
The City Council passed the Strategic Energy Action Plan in 2018, in pursuit of the Sustainable and Resilient Charlotte by 2050 resolution. These policies, along with innovative vision and effort from leaders, have allowed Charlotte to make strides towards more EV deployment. Within the next fiscal year, Charlotte plans to purchase more than 20 EVs, install $1 million of EV infrastructure and install 38 additional EV chargers.
Davis emphasized that with strong leadership, commitment to policy and planning, reliance on data when making decisions, and patience, anyone can make the journey into sustainable energy.
The webinar concluded with a brief Q&A about the next steps for each organization, changes due to COVID-19 and options for those not within direct Clean Cities boundaries.
Jacob Bolin encouraged all North Carolinians interested to reach out to NCSU’s Clean Energy Technology Center and the nearest Clean Cities Coalition for funding guidance and assistance.
The final installment of the series focused on infrastructure considerations for fleet electrification and featured presentations from Mike Rowand and Jim Poch of Duke Energy. Jason Wager, the Coordinator of Centralina Clean Fuels, moderated the panel discussion.
Mike Rowand, Duke’s Director of Technology Development, explained that due to the large power draw from heavy-duty electric vehicles, fleets considering this technology need to account for more than just the charging infrastructure; facility electrical infrastructure, utility service infrastructure, and distributed energy resources all play a role in deploying heavy-duty EVs.
Rowand emphasized the importance of working with your local electric utility to ensure that you have the appropriate infrastructure in place.
Given the complicated nature of charging heavy-duty EVs, fleet managers may not know where to begin the planning process. Poch, Duke’s Electric Transportation Manager in South Carolina, discussed lessons learned from previous EV deployments to provide guidance to fleet managers a playbook of planning considerations to think through before jumping into EV deployment.
Fleet management personnel need to address charging needs, range anxiety and electric utility rates in order to effectively transition to electric drive. Organizations were encouraged to pursue electric fleet options but should take the time to plan before doing so; the transition to electric vehicles is a learning process and fleets will likely encounter hiccups and roadblocks along the way.
In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, fleet managers are encouraged to engage with utility companies and trusted technology vendors early and often.
This successful series was a collaborative effort of NC’s Clean Cities Coalitions: Triangle Clean Cities, Centralina Clean Fuels and Land of Sky Clean Vehicles. The series was also made possible by our partnership with Plug-in NC, North Carolina’s statewide EV program working to promote EVs and to establish the state as a leader in electric transportation.
All three webinars were recorded, and can be found at the links below: