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3 lessons for deploying an electric fleet

electric voltage meter

By some estimates, the transportation sector contributes to roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — and growing. At the same time, cities are taking action to address congestion and air pollution in an effort to improve air quality and overall public health.

To address these dual issues, UPS is deploying a fleet electrification strategy to reduce its carbon footprint while meeting customer demand for deliveries in cities.

“UPS is deploying a fleet electrification strategy to reduce its carbon footprint while meeting customer demand for deliveries in cities.”

One of the main barriers to large-scale electric vehicle (EV) uptake is lack of supply — there just aren’t enough electric vehicles available for freight and delivery usage. But there's another side of the story that often goes overlooked: Even if you have the vehicle, you still have to power the truck.

sustainability report
Learn more about the SEUL collaboration and our other urban logistics partnerships in UPS’s latest Sustainability Report.

The traditional solution has always been to buy upgrades from the grid to increase charging capacity — an expensive and cumbersome process

To tackle this challenge, we convened a consortium to develop and deploy game-changing technology that enables simultaneous charging of an entire fleet of EVs without the need for expensive upgrades to the power grid.

The Smart Electric Urban Logistics (SEUL) project is a collaboration between UPS, UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership, with funding secured from the U.K.’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles.

I recently joined Cross River Partnership’s Tom Linton-Smith, and Rachel Stanley, of UK Power Networks Services, for a webcast with GreenBiz’s Joel Makower to discuss the project.

Here are three key lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Partnerships make it all possible.

At UPS, we’re logistics experts. But we needed to bring in trusted partners who could provide expertise and an external perspective.

Cross River Partnership (CRP) is central London’s largest public-private partnership for regeneration projects that improve air quality. CRP developed a pathway and framework for the project and coordinated with the U.K.’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles.

“A fleet of 200 to 300 electric trucks requires up to four times the power needed for a facility designed for diesel trucks.”

UK Power Networks Services contributed expertise in the design, development and management of power systems and multi-utility networks. They also helped us navigate the infrastructure upgrades, and coordinated financing with Innovate UK.

This powerful collaboration enabled us to avoid unnecessary and expensive grid upgrades while also mitigating costs through government funding.

2. Start early, and begin with the end in mind.

Charging a commercial fleet of EVs can be challenging. A fleet of 200 to 300 electric trucks, for instance, requires up to four times the power needed for a facility designed for diesel trucks. Getting that scale of power to the facility requires careful planning and clarity of the desired outcome.

electric vehicle

It’s critical to consider the various factors and dependences: What is the current energy requirement and capacity? What is the anticipated need and capacity in the future? How much work is required to develop the charging technology and convert vehicles? How long should you plan to test the vehicles and infrastructure in a real-world scenario?

This project affirmed what we already knew: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For UPS, a combination of technologies has been most effective in our operation, particularly in London, where there is a growing demand for electrification.

3. Expect the unexpected.

By almost all metrics, the SEUL project has been a success. We’ve increased our EV capacity, going from 65 trucks to all 170 vehicles based in the London center.

 UPS drivers love the vehicles, as they are quieter and create less vibration than diesel trucks. The project has also provided a way for us to connect more credibly with customers and policymakers around solutions to congestion and pollution.

But as with any new undertaking, there will be the inevitable curveballs. One operational reality of our package sortation centers is that dispatch plans change. This is less of an issue with diesel trucks, not limited by parking and loading locations after fueling.

“Growing collaboration between the transportation and energy sectors will rapidly generate new solutions, drive efficiencies and reduce costs.”

EVs, however, require proximity to a charging portal. To address this challenge, we are working with UKPN Services to develop more flexible charging systems that enable more options for parking and loading.

There is always an inevitable transition period when testing new technologies. Nevertheless, these temporary challenges will produce long-term gains and benefits.

The SEUL collaboration signals a new generation of sustainable urban delivery services in London and in other cities around the world. Growing collaboration between the transportation and energy sectors will rapidly generate new solutions, drive efficiencies and reduce costs.

[Top Image: Thomas Kelley/Unsplash]

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