Home Truck News Electrification wave proves resilient and beneficial: Panel  - Truck News

Electrification wave proves resilient and beneficial: Panel  – Truck News

Meticulous planning, utility partnerships, and proactive infrastructure development are necessary during the transition to electric vehicles (EVs), said panelists at the EV and Charging Expo in Toronto on May 2, while discussing opportunities and challenges of electrifying last-mile delivery operations.

The early adopters prove the electrification wave is here to stay, saying they see the environmental and operational benefits of their transition. 

However, the journey to full electrification is not without its challenges.

Carolyn Kim, corporate affairs director at UPS and Chris Henry Purolator, fleet director, on the stage
Left to right: Carolyn Kim, corporate affairs director at UPS and Chris Henry, Purolator fleet director. (Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

Chris Henry, fleet director at Purolator, shares a cautionary tale on how the lack of planning for the transition and moving too quickly without adequate preparation — particularly in terms of infrastructure — can slow down the process. 

“We did not plan, and we should have.” 

Failing forward: Purolator’s planning story

He says when Purolator bought its first 25 electric vehicles three years ago, it expected a delivery in six to nine months. However, the vehicles arrived only two months later, catching the company off-guard.

“We’re sitting on 25 vehicles that’s batteries likely are about to deteriorate. We have to find a way to manage them and take care of them,” Henry recalls. “And we have had an initial plan to go and pilot at three sites. But we had to just kind of stop and say, ‘Alright, just stop running around — let’s get back and formulate a very good plan.’”

Extensive data gathering and discussions with consultants and third-party experts led to the realization that the available infrastructure was not sufficient to support electrification, as most of the buildings were 40 years old, and didn’t have “anywhere near enough power.” 

“Our journey, we thought, was potentially eight months to a year. It has now turned into three years,” Henry says. “We’re probably on our fifth generation of the plan.”

Future-proofing, thinking in phases

However, as an early EV adopter, Purolator is not the only fleet that has made a mistake. But such stories are an example of ‘failing forward,’ says Gabriela Favaron, director of EV Infrastructure at 7Gen, adding that this is a part of a learning curve for fleets. 

She shares the most common strategy mistake she sees her customers make is treating EVs as internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. “If you’re assuming that your operations are going to run similar to ICE, you’re making a big first step mistake.” 

She says fleets have to understand that existing operational aspects will most likely need to be modified. Fleets can “future-proof” their facilities according to the most suitable types of vehicles in the market, their range and capacity and the required power at the facilities.

Left to right: Chris Henry, fleet director at Purolator; Gabriela Favaron, EV infrastructure director at 7Gen; Robert Safrata, CEO, Noxev Delivery Solutions on the stage
Left to right: Chris Henry, fleet director at Purolator; Gabriela Favaron, EV infrastructure director at 7Gen; Robert Safrata, CEO, Novex Delivery Solutions. (Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

Thinking in phases and understanding where the business currently stands and where it wants to go is crucial for effective planning, Favaron says, adding that developing a high-level roadmap outlining current capabilities and future goals will enable success. 

Ensuring that utility concerns are managed is a part of the planning, too.

Robert Safrata, owner and CEO of Novex Delivery Solutions and Purolator’s Henry both say that as the industry starts to plan for electrification, building a symbiotic relationship with utilities is key. 

“The need for power, the need for regions or cities or towns that have appropriate power [grows]. We definitely have to work hand in hand and understand what their plan is and what our plan is to see what’s capable,” says Henry. “Because, if a certain utility isn’t planning to have their region electrified or have enough power, the likelihood is that we probably won’t go there.”

Safrata warns that if utilities are not willing to move quickly towards electrification, they may not remain dominant players in the power business in the future.

Energy management

The electrification journey might take a while, but it remains a fast-paced environment that makes many educate themselves on various topics, including the energy management aspect.

Despite concerns about needing more power generation to accommodate the growing number of electric vehicles, Safrata believes concerns are probably overdone. When talking about planning for power generation and grid capacity, he discusses the concept of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. It powers bi-directional charging, enabling EV battery charging and then taking the unused energy stored in the battery to push it back to the power grid.

“There was a study done in the UK recently that said by the year 2050, they will need 25 gigawatts more energy, just for electric cars. However, with bi-directional charging — which is out there but we don’t have it yet really –and smart meter management, by 2050, they will need five gigawatts less than they produce today. Isn’t that astounding?”

Safrata compared it to charging a phone from the power bank. The power bank might take all night to charge, but it will take a week to discharge – especially when it is used it in short bursts, like 30-minute increments – when needed.

Gabriela Favaron, EV infrastructure director at 7Gen (left) and Robert Safrata, CEO, Novex Delivery Solutions (right).
(Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

“That’s the same thing that we’ll be doing with our buses and trucks in the future,” he says. “And that’s why you won’t need more power. You will have power when you need it from these rolling assets.”

He also highlights the significant investment in stationary battery storage in the U.S., pointing out there’s a vast amount of battery capacity sitting idle in cars most of the time.

“So it’s out there, it’s available. We just have to be able to get it back and plug it into the wall at night. During the day, I turn around and plug it into my phone. That’s what we’ll be doing with trucks and buses. And that’s why we’re now talking to utilities.”

Unanticipated operational benefits

But reflecting on the current electrification results, Safrata says it has paid dividends already. As of 2020, his B.C.-based Novex has reduced its emissions by more than 59%.

He recalls buying a fleet of 100 vehicles in 2000. “I told my wife and she said, ‘Why did you buy a dirty business?’ And I immediately said, ‘Because I can clean it up.’ Three years later the first hybrids were available.” He adds he now has two transportation companies that he ‘cleaned up’ by introducing cleaner alternatives as they become available. 

Henry adds Purolator has seen benefits from electrification, too. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he says the company saw a change in driver experience and community interaction.

The company’s drivers report a more enjoyable driving experience with electric vehicles. They appreciate the smoother, quieter ride and lower center of gravity, which results in less fatigue after their shifts.

Safrata shares this experience, adding that the improvement in working conditions led to lower turnover rates. Compared to the industry’s average driver turnover of 30%, his company’s rate averages between 5% and 7%. 

Henry says Purolator drivers also get the chance to spread the word about greener deliveries, as they are often stopped on the street by citizens asking about the electric vehicles and their operations. “They’re kind of a walking billboard. And so, we get that incremental benefit of the community [engagement] and engagement with our staff, who want to be a part of it.”

The shift also inspired the company’s broader environmental efforts to change significantly. “Whether it’s changing our lightbulbs, sorting our garbage properly or looking to reduce our overall energy consumption,” says Henry, “it’s becoming more and more prevalent within our organization.”


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