Flexibility – the smarts of a staged e-mobility strategy

This article is the second in a series about the importance and value of performance, flexibility and confidence for commercial e-mobility decision-makers.

The electric vehicle industry is facing a perfect storm between the worldwide shortage of components for smart technologies, impacts on manufacturing supply chains and freight due to the pandemic, and the positive increase in demand for electric vehicles and chargers. That may sound like a caution for fleet owners and managers, but it’s actually a prompt to start the transition to e-fleets now. Fortunately, e-mobility and its supporting technologies offer desirable flexibility via four key strategies.

Strategy one: design for scalability

Few organisations go all-in with electric vehicles. They typically roll out a pilot and then follow a sequenced approach to transition from internal combustion vehicles to electric. Much of this is influenced by internal factors, such as the need to prove a business case and manage behavioural change around bookings, charging, route management and the like. However, some of the value of phasing the shift lies in the wider infrastructure of the fleet, including the quality and nature of the local grid and loads, and basics such as power availability.

A major pillar of a strong e-fleet strategy is scalability. That’s why many of ABB’s products are designed to grow over time, embedding future-proofing into initial investments. Take our Terra 124 and 184. As needs and budgets change, customers can scale from 90kW to 180kW, with the only dependence being whether the distribution remains suited. Even then, components can be efficiently added to upgrade the underlying distribution. The Terra 124 and 184 can charge two vehicles simultaneously. Features such as flexible power delivery up to 180kW, and compatibility with current and future electric vehicles, enable customers to start now while leaving room to leverage their initial investment in the future in line with market growth and demand.

This is the technology charging Australia’s first 100 per cent sustainably powered, full-size electric bus in South East Queensland, delivered by Transdev. The bus is fully powered by ‘harvested’ solar energy collected on-site at Transdev’s Capalaba depot. ABB worked with Transdev and Australian bus body manufacturer, Volgren, to provide an integrated grid-to-plug solution – part of Transdev’s move toward an all-electric fleet. The solution was designed to suit existing grid capacity and expected future additional loads and power distribution upgrades as the e-fleet expands, backed by intelligent load management.

ABB’s Terra 124 dual outlet fast-charging solution was the ideal choice. It can provide a single 120kW charge or charge two buses at 60kW simultaneously in less than 5 hours, achieving up to 300km per charge, efficiency that minimises downtime and improves bus use. With ABB’s cloud-connected, digital solution ABB Ability™ Connected Services Platform, Transdev can remotely monitor the charging infrastructure 24/7 to ensure reliable, efficient bus services and further enhance uptime, scalability and operational efficiency.

Strategy two: plan for interoperability

Interoperability is the natural partner to scalability. The pace of development globally means that, while some standardisation has been achieved with electric vehicle technologies, there is still a need to design for multiple requirements, such as CCS, CHAdeMO and AC functionality. ABB once again prioritises interoperable technologies across our portfolio – of chargers and solutions for grid connectivity, power distribution, cloud connectivity and more.

ABB’s Terra 184 DC charger, mentioned above, enables scale and supports all open charging standards in flexible configurations. It’s the high-power charging solution supporting Zemtec’s bus depot in New Zealand, selected in part because they could charge buses from different brands with the same charger, following international standards and comprehensive interoperability testing. Zemtec’s buses also carry the benefit of being considerably lighter than a conventional diesel bus of the same size – able to carry the same passenger load on two rather than three axles. The right charging solution makes operational benefits such as this, possible. Given that transport makes up almost 33 per cent of long-lived greenhouse gas emissions in the country, there is extra motivation for a fast and effective transition to electric vehicles.

In Vietnam, similar interoperability benefits are vital to supporting the country’s goal of balancing significant growth with environmentally friendly transport solutions. As one example, Aeon Mall in Hai Phong city – the third largest city in Vietnam – aims to offer unrivalled retail experiences. It sports a suite of ABB’s fast chargers for electric vehicles as part of that experience, offering patrons free, fast charging stations using ABB’s Terra 54 CJG and Terra DC wallbox chargers. The Terra 54 CJG is one of our all-in-one electric vehicle charging solutions, supporting CCS, CHAdeMO and AC functionality. It can support either DC or AC charging, or both at the same time – essential flexibility for public use contexts like a major retail destination.

Strategy three: tailor for chargers last

The power of flexibility is influenced by the quality of planning. While one of ABB’s core specialisations is charging technology, we actively argue for charging to come last in decision-making. The discussion should first be about the vehicle, particularly as these are often ordered first and establish some of an e-fleet’s constraints and possibilities. Vehicle choice is coupled with a site’s technical limits, such as power distribution, current and future loads, and wider grid capability. We work with customers to understand these choices, and where they will be in 3, 5 and 10 years, so we can aim to deliver capital works once. Through these discussions, we also seek to understand fleet movements and growth, because every time an electric vehicle stops, it offers an opportunity for charging. Once these influencing factors are known, it’s the right point to select chargers.

The modular nature of many chargers, and the increasing flexibility they offer for multiple simultaneous charging modes, makes it the most adaptable decision point. Many other factors are not easily or affordably able to change. Our goal with customers is to help them select a charger, or blend of chargers, that fit current needs and budgets, while offering the capacity to grow over time. Through this, they can leverage their original investment as much as possible. Flexibility expands further still when factoring in opportunities such as charging vehicles via solar, and incorporating technologies such as battery energy management, storage and the like. A key feature of the Transdev project described earlier was incorporating solar generated at the depot, with their charging, alongside other capabilities such as remote monitoring.

Strategy four: think creatively

The global electric vehicle industry is rapidly changing and is finally making slightly larger leaps in Australia. However, the global market still sees Australia as backward and because we’re behind, there’s a longer lead time for vehicles and components. The Electric Vehicle Council’s latest figures show that, in 2021, two per cent of all vehicles sold in Australia were electric, compared to 15 per cent in the United Kingdom and a whopping 72 per cent in Norway[1].

Australia won’t be able to maintain that glacial pace for much longer, which will only extend the demand and supply challenge. If ever there was an incentive to get moving now, this is it – and for fleet owners and managers, starting now means you can get your strategy right and extract maximum value from your investment and benefit for your operations.

ABB is just one of many providers here to offer advice on the right mix of solutions and specifications. This is where we encourage industries to think creatively about what they need from their move to electric vehicles. Our work on Singapore port’s ground-breaking automated guided vehicle (AGV) program is a classic example of the creative use of smart charging infrastructure. Operations recently started up, with a fleet of 162 AGVs coming into service progressively to handle heavy shipping containers. We worked closely with the Land Systems arm of ST Engineering to deliver and commission integrated smart-charging stations for the AGV fleet. This included 18 smart fast-charging stations with built-in fault tolerance and self-diagnostic features. Each station was constructed into a fully integrated eHouse on a prefabricated skid with the medium and low-voltage switchgear, transformer, 450kW high-power chargers, and associated control and monitoring equipment – a complete e-mobility solution. The pantograph charging technology was also specially designed and customised to avoid clash issues with container movements. The containerised solution gives the port authority flexibility during installation and commissioning, as well as ongoing operations, including easy relocation to different areas of the port as needed.

Electric vehicle technologies are increasingly flexible. When integrated in a full, tailored solution, they offer significant scope to fit a customer’s requirements today and into the future. That flexibility makes starting the conversation today about a transition to e-fleets all the more practical.

Visit ABB’s website for more information about ABB’s e-fleet and commercial charging portfolio.

[1] Electric Vehicle Council, State of Electric Vehicles, March 2022

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About the author

Sean Stove

Sean Stove is the head of ABB Australia’s E-Mobility Division. In this role he is responsible for driving strategic direction and growth in the electric vehicle (EV) and sustainable transport sector across ABB’s EV charging and infrastructure portfolio for electric cars, and buses and heavy vehicles. Joining ABB in 1997, Sean has held numerous senior roles in sales, operations and business development across Asia Pacific and Europe. Most recently he led ABB Australia’s transportation and rail segments, having been involved in the rail sector since 2003. After completing his Electrical Certificate from Christchurch Polytechnic, Sean became a graduate of the University of Queensland’s Mt Eliza MBA Program, and completed the Senior Leadership Development program at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.
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