Powering an electric last mile fleet can be challenging, but it is not impossible

Business Insights

Urban delivery operations are turning green as more last mile delivery companies switch their fleets to electric. But an electricity supply that is inadequate to support the level of EV charging required to power the fleet can present a challenge if fleet managers do not consider the infrastructure early on in the process.

The rise in home delivery and free returns has seen the carbon impact of last mile delivery vehicles grow, particularly in urban areas. Some estimates suggest these vehicles can be responsible for between 20% to 30% of a city's emissions.

Retailers and last mile logistics operators are looking to lead the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce their impact on the environment. However, rolling out charging infrastructure for electric vans and trucks is not a straightforward process. Making mistakes could lead to expensive delays or costly failures. Many consider choosing the right vehicles to be the primary and most integral step in the fleet electrification process, but the vehicles are nothing without the right infrastructure to charge them.

There are several things to consider during the initial stages of installing EV charging infrastructure, but understanding the capacity of your grid connection is one of the most important.

Adding EVs to a depot's fleet will increase power usage, as EV chargers use a considerable amount of energy. As the number of EVs in your fleet grows, they will place a higher demand on your grid connection. Therefore, it is vital to understand how much power you are already using and how much headroom remains from your grid connection.

The key questions to consider are:

  • What power availability do you currently have on your site? Is this enough power to supply the chargers you are looking to install?

  • If not, what will it cost to upgrade that power supply, and do you have the budget?

  • How long will it take to deliver your Distribution Network Operator (DNO) upgrades, and how will this affect your electrification targets.

Calculating power availability

Start by seeing how much power is available currently, to help you accurately work out whether you have the right capacity to supply your EV chargers. Calculate how much power you use (your ‘maximum demand') by looking at energy bills or collecting insights from your energy management system, which will give you a good idea of the number and type of EV chargers that can be installed for your new fleet without risking a power outage.

If investigations reveal your current power connection cannot support the number of chargers required to meet your EV targets, a connection upgrade is the next step. This must be factored into both your budget and your electrification timelines due to the length of time it can take to upgrade a power connection.

Some fleet managers may be able to increase budgets to account for the necessary connection upgrades. Others may opt for a phased approach that starts with electrifying a selection of the vehicles and installing a few charge points to test the waters, before thinking about expanding both the fleet and the charging network in the near future.

Overcoming power difficulties with innovative solutions

Load balancing is a helpful option if power availability is a concern. When energy demands from EVs plugged into the network are higher than the available amount of power, smart chargers will equally divide power between the EVs. The vehicles all still charge, but at a slower rate, but you do not compromise power to other operations or end up with a surcharge from your DNO. As long as there is sufficient time to still fully recharge vehicles, load balancing can be a cost-effective solution.

Next steps

Once you have calculated the power availability at the site you intend to install EV charge points on and, if necessary, decided on a solution to overcoming grid limitations, fleet managers should move onto identifying whether fast or rapid chargers will best suit your electric last mile fleet needs. You will also have to think about procurement, the installation process, and how to effectively minimise charger downtime for your mission critical EVs.

Learn more about powering your last mile fleet

Register for Mer's upcoming webinar for last mile logistics operators interested in learning more about EV fleet charging, and receive a free eguide covering the step-by-step process for meeting fleet electrification targets.

Sign up for the webinar