When your fleet starts and ends a shift at a company location — such as a warehouse — you’ll want to install charging at that location. Some call this depot or “back-to-base” charging, where several chargers are installed on site to serve the fleet in one centralized location. The goal is that your fleet vehicles — which can be plugged in while parked or while being loaded — are fully charged and ready to go when your employees arrive.

How to develop a depot charging plan

3D illustration of a depot charging plan
Dedicated charging stations in a depot help to ensure vehicles are fully charged when a driver’s shift begins. Image: ABB E-Mobility

Every organization will need a different mix of charging equipment at the depot. Fleet electrification experts highly recommend you bring in a charging partner or consultant to guide you through this process, but we’ve tried to simplify the steps here to give you an overview of what’s involved.

Some of the key factors that go into the plan:

  1. Your operations
    The time the vehicles leave and return to base will determine how long they have to charge, and the power level needed to recharge them within that window. You may need a fast-charge solution for trucks that have a tighter turnaround time.
  2. Your daily mileage
    Batteries might not fully discharge if your vehicles run on routes that are much shorter than their range, meaning they only need a partial top-up each night.
  3. The vehicles in your fleet
    Each vehicle may have a different charging capability (a maximum power source that they can accept, rated in kW) and battery pack size. For instance, you might have a 7.2 kW, 9.6 kW or 11.5 kW Level 2 charger for sedans and SUVs, a 19.2 kW charger for your extended range pickup trucks, plus a DC charger if you’re operating a Class 6 truck.

It’s helpful to have a long-term view of your fleet electrification plans and an understanding of how you’ll phase in your charging plan over time, even if you don’t install all the infrastructure at once. “The best way to do planning is to begin with the end in mind: that ideally means a 10-year projection for a high-level vehicle procurement schedule,” explains Tyler Seed, business development manager at PowerOn, Ontario Power Generation’s fleet electrification consultancy. 

“Even if your electrification schedule is going to change, that helps you plan at the facility level. You don’t need to install all the chargers at once, but you want to have an idea of what the phases will look like.” 

— Tyler Seed, business development manager at PowerOn

Plotting the installations

Charging can happen inside a warehouse facility or outdoors, on a lot. Outdoor locations are usually cheaper to set up, but your vehicles will be parked outside while charging, where temperature can impact charging times. Indoor depots may cost more to set up, but they protect vehicles from the weather, which makes charging more consistent. 

EVs can have different charging port locations. Plan your charging spaces so that vehicles can approach them from different directions or park at different angles while still leaving plenty of space around them. Map out the locations on your facility’s floor plan, reorganize parking if needed, and determine any required electrical and construction work.

Hang it on a wall

Both standalone and wall-mounted chargers are available. Pierre Ducharme, an electrification consultant at Marcon-Miratech, recommends wall-hung dock installations whenever possible. “They cut down at least 25 per cent of the installed cost, if not 50 per cent,” he says. “You don’t need the cement base for a bollard, or a roof, or any of that. If you hang it on a wall, it’s no big deal.”
If your facility is leased, plug-in wall boxes will also be more portable if you need to move your charging infrastructure later on. And always review your lease terms before installing charging.

Do you have enough power?

Once you have a sense of how many charging stations are needed and where, it’s time to bring in an electrician or charging consultant to evaluate if your facility has the appropriate power supply. Your electrical lead will evaluate the site, calculate how much power the chargers will draw, and map out any service upgrades. At the simplest level, this involves looking at the panel to see if you have enough breakers to connect to the chargers. The first upgrade might be a new panel if you don’t have enough breakers for the amps needed. 

”It’s site specific. If you have a warehouse, you might only have enough power on site to run the lighting. If you’re in a welding shop, you’re likely to have more power coming in. And if you have a 20-year-old building built for cold storage, you may end up with lots of capacity for charging because that equipment has become more efficient over time and no longer draws as much energy,” says Terry O’Day, COO of charging infrastructure solutions company InCharge Energy.

Find your current electrical capacity

If you’re looking to install DC charging or multiple chargers, your facility’s utility bills will hold the clue as to whether there’s enough power coming from the grid to the building.

If your plans call for substantially increasing the power demand inside the building, or for installing DC Fast Chargers to deliver anywhere from 24 kW to 350 kW of charging current, you may need to account for significant costs and time delays to upgrade the electrical service to the building. At this level, you’ll need planning, permitting — and, potentially, a new transformer and/or tie-in to the power lines brought in by the utility. Allow 24 months to build out a project of this scale. 

Solar power and battery storage

If your depot is unshaded and you are in a region that is blessed with plenty of sunshine, you might also consider adding solar and battery storage into your depot charging mix. The solar/storage combo is a useful tool for working around time-of-use and demand charges, since you can top up a battery with solar-generated power or with cheaper nighttime grid electricity, then use that electricity during times higher on-site demand or while primetime rates are in effect. This is also a great approach for remote and indigenous communities that may be running on diesel power.

Share the load

Your electrician or charging consultant can help you plan your station network and charging schedule to balance the depot’s electrical load as a way to pre-empt a costly upgrade. Some advance planning to reduce load on site at peak charge times can help. “[We] try to shed load where it’s not required in order to be able to feed the trucks,” says Ducharme. “For example, if there’s air conditioning, we install a very simple device to turn it off overnight because no one remembers to do that.”

The vehicles themselves can also share networked chargers, with smart charging relaying the power to the vehicles either on a schedule, or based on battery levels – with the “thirstiest” vehicles getting priority. This approach will reduce the overall power load at any given time, since all the chargers don’t operate at once or operate at a reduced kW to power-share.   

Demand charges

Demand charges are electricity rates based on peak usage, rather than on total consumption. Originally introduced to charge factories a premium on the high volumes of peak energy they draw from the grid, demand charges usually kick in once capacity goes above 50 kW – meaning the use of a DC Fast charger once per month can trigger these higher rates.
“Lower power chargers that let you spread the load over time also help avoid demand charges,” explains InCharge Energy CTO Cliff Fietzek.

Learn more about demand charges with these articles at Electric Autonomy Canada

How to finance your depot charging

  • Take advantage of government subsidies
    Through its Zero-emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program Natural Resources Canada grants organizations funding related to the installation of electric vehicle chargers. Funding is reserved for projects that include a minimum of two 50 kW DC Fast Chargers or a minimum of 20 Level 2 AC chargers. There are also delivery organizations, such as Indigenous Clean Energy, Clean Nova Scotia Foundation and Propulsion Quebec, that distribute funding to fleet projects in their communities.

Read more about EV incentives and rebates across Canada

  • Enlist the help of an electrification consultant
    “There are a lot of grants in Canada and the U.S. to help pay for charging infrastructure,” offers Cliff Fietzek at InCharge. “We have a team to help with that and optimize the cost. We also offer charging as a service, which means that we are financing projects over time, and then the fleet is paying on a per kilometre or on a per kilowatt hour basis.”
  • Consider charging as a service
    Charging-as-a-service providers — like InCharge, PowerOn in Ontario or Cleo in Quebec, allow the high capital costs of charging infrastructure to be translated into operating costs, resulting in a single monthly fee. Often, an automaker’s fleet financing division or leasing company can provide this service as well.
Selling carbon credits

“In some parts of Canada, you can generate carbon credits through your charging infrastructure [for every kWh delivered in charge to an EV] and then sell them through an exchange. The idea is that whoever is building the electrical infrastructure can get the needed investment to do it.”
— Cliff Fietzek, InCharge Energy

Look at what role public charging networks can play for fleet organizations, in the next topic. Don’t forget to Save progress.

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