Getting larger vehicles on the road to electrification

19 Feb 2021

Bernard Magee. Image: Siemens

Siemens’ Bernard Magee discusses the challenges of building an e-mobility strategy for fleet operators.

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On the road to achieving climate goals, electrifying the transport sector is a route that is often discussed. As part of its Climate Action Plan launched in 2019, the Irish Government set a target of having 950,000 EVs on Irish roads by 2030.

And while there has been progress in this space, including plans to convert 180 phone boxes into EV charging stations, there is still a long way to go in terms of the logistics of electrifying Irish roads.

Bernard Magee, director of electric vehicle charging for Siemens in the UK and Ireland, said that while network charging improvements are firmly on the agenda, questions remain for fleet operators, particularly when it comes to transitioning to electric trucks, vans and buses.

“From talking to customers, the most common challenge fleet operators have is understanding how to best maximise the power available at their site. City centre installations can be challenging due to space and power limitations,” he said.

“Out-of-town and more rural sites have the benefit of additional space and the opportunity to use on-site energy generation and storage solutions to supplement energy usage, but existing infrastructure may need to be upgraded to support electrification.”

Earlier this year, a major study found that European power grids may need up to €425bn investment until 2030 in order to become carbon neutral by 2050. One of the proposed areas for investment in Ireland was the electrification of transport.

At an individual fleet operator level, Magee said financiers are starting to recognise that support is needed to help fleet operators with the initial upfront capital outlays. However, he added that there is often a misconception that electrification has to be implemented at a particular site in one go.

“For many fleet operators that’s just not a practical way forward.” He recommended a phased approach to electrification instead.

‘Industry has a responsibility to signpost the steps to successful site electrification’

When it comes to electrifying larger vehicles as opposed to regular passenger cars, Magee said there’s a perception that e-trucks and e-buses need a significant window of charging time to run effectively.

This isn’t the case. Both haulage and transport operators rely on timetabling and route planning, which provides vehicle visibility from which to build an electrification strategy. In cases where vehicle patterns shift, complementary charging scenarios such as a mix of high and low-power chargers are implemented,” he said.

“High-powered chargers can be used where there’s no significant downtime, while a vehicle is being loaded. AC chargers are deployed for longer, overnight charging when a depot is closed. Unlike traditional refuelling, vehicle charging becomes a secondary activity, performed overnight or during loading, minimising vehicle downtime.”

With a wider discussion regarding electric vehicles happening in Ireland, Magee said there is now an expectation that fleet operators will follow suit and electrify depots and use commercial EVs. However, he warned that operators’ questions must be addressed.

“Industry has a responsibility to signpost the steps to successful site electrification, celebrate the great examples of operators who are already using EVs, and promote further knowledge sharing to increase confidence in the transition,” he said.

“Ultimately, a successful fleet electrification strategy is the combination of key components working seamlessly together – the charging infrastructure, the vehicles, the power distribution system, the software monitoring systems and the servicing and support.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic