Why Electrifying Bus Fleets Need ZEV Solar Charging

Electrification. It’s going everywhere.

From The White House outlining new $30M federal investments in building energy efficiency and electrification to more than 100 models of electric vehicles hitting the road the next 24 months, the shift to electrify transport and buildings is well underway.

For public and private transit agencies, school districts and other commercial vehicle fleets, electrification is more than changing equipment. It’s changing the very core of financial, energy and fleet operations.

To meet this demand, Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions is proud to announce availability of its ZEV Solar Charging suite. To address the wide variety of implementations that reflect the current state of zero emission vehicle fleet transitions, here are some of the questions and answers we give to transit and bus fleet operators when it comes to electrifying and charging their fleets.


Why is electrification the most cost-effective option for transit and school fleets?

cost savings zero emissions ev charging

Charging electric-vehicle fleets is a huge business opportunity | McKinsey

It’s not surprising that electric load demands and costs usually rank as top concerns when switching commercial and public sector fleets to electric. That, and how to pay for the infrastructure that makes charging easy to use. Reliable. And without breaking the bank along the way.

Helpfully, there is a lot of research, such as this study from McKinsey and Company, showing that in most geographies, sourcing electricity generation from off-grid sources yields great savings. According to McKinsey, the least expensive form of off-grid power is solar generated from on-site installations. On-site solar – particularly when built over existing parking lots – helps assure the emissions and pollution reductions you seek by electrifying your fleet are not negated by using emissions-heavy electricity sources.


Why do agencies like the idea of solar canopies?

For over two decades, schools and transit agencies have invested in solar. Most had two goals. Cut energy costs and help their communities improve air quality and lower their emissions, and thus, cut their negative climate change contribution.

By choosing to expand onsite solar generation at the same time agencies and corporations electrify their fleets, they gain these advantages. Plus they assure that the electricity coming into the charging connectors is emissions free, something not true of dirty electrons on many local grids across the US.


How are these systems financed?

If the system is on-site solar or solar plus battery energy storage (BESS) – a combination that helps to lower demand charges and manage to take advantage of the lowest cost time of use electricity rates — the investments can be financed through a power purchase agreement (PPA). This allows for both better payback over time as well as experienced solar solution operations and maintenance by the project developer.

PPAs also are financing mechanisms that consider future usage. Since you are already trenching and running conduit, make sure you run enough to be “charger ready” for future growth. That’s the beauty of working under solar PPAs that span 15 to 25 years. You save today AND plan for tomorrow. Work with your commercial solar installer and tax advisors to understand the best financing, including local utility incentives like net energy metering (NEM), government rebates and tax incentives.


How do we make “electrification of everything” equitable?

This is actually low-hanging-fruit for many communities.

We work with local governments and their transit agencies who are designated Opportunity Zones and some of the most vulnerable communities impacted the most by transportation air pollution and climate change. You may have seen the study that quantifies the health costs of air pollution and climate change now exceed $800 billion every year.

At places like the City of Anaheim and Anaheim Transportation Network, the potential to decrease toxic fumes from diesel buses and deliver cleaner electrons to those who can’t have their own rooftop solar, changes everything for everyone in our communities. In addition, fleet workers enjoy safer, more productive work environments and don’t go home at night smelling of motor oil or diesel fumes.


What does ZEV Solar Charging include?

With our ZEV Solar Charging suite, zero emissions vehicle fleets – such as electric buses, delivery vans, trucks, forklifts and more – can be reliably charged with low to no emissions energy. ZEV Solar Charging is sized for wherever you are on your fleet transition, pilot through full rollout and operation, and comes in three flavors: Traditional, Integrated and Microgrid.

Traditional includes rooftop, ground mount and overhead commercial solar plus energy storage, charger energy infrastructure and finance.

Integrated involves tighter collaboration with an ecosystem of vendors. Our announcement with AMPLY Power, for example, delivers overhead, renewable electric vehicle fleet charging from a solar canopy, including a patent-pending pantograph device that bridges the gap between solar energy and overhead DC fast charging for bus depots.

Microgrid combines Traditional and Integrated solutions along with additional technologies and services that island from the grid in short- to extended-outages.


Is there any other advice that you’re hearing from transit agencies?

Besides accelerating cost and emissions reductions and making it easier for transit agencies to shift to decarbonized electrification, interoperability and standardization are in high demand. Fleet operators need connectors and equipment to be more standardized across manufacturer. Most agencies have multiple vehicles from multiple manufacturers and are managing that diversity over time. That becomes harder if no universal connectors, charging software, energy management and more.

So, like any strategic transition, plan. Iterate. Pivot. And work with suppliers who will be with you through any of the phases.

Whether you’re in pilot with a handful of vehicles or managing over 100 buses, the need for clean energy charging, interoperability and standardization day one will simplify the lift, every stage of the EV fleet full lifecycle. You just need to get started.

Have a question for us? Let’s talk.

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