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Opportunities in electrified transport just keep growing

November 28, 2021 | By Anthony Capkun

Lilium has selected ABB to provide the charging infrastructure for its electrified regional air network, scheduled for commercial launch in 2024. The initial range of a 7-seater Lilium jet is expected to be 155 miles, with a cruise speed of 175 mph. Photo : Lilium N.V.

November 28, 2021 – The move toward electrified transport marches on. Rebates and incentives for electric vehicles—some quite generous—are helping to fuel this transition across the country.

And this is not restricted to the passenger vehicles to which we have become accustomed, explains Moneeb Durrani, sales manager, e-Mobility, with ABB Canada, but is ever-expanding to include all manner of vehicles, including vocational vehicles (e.g. pickup trucks) transit and school buses, ambulances… even passenger and vehicle ferries.

“There are two main vehicle types that haven’t yet been electrified,” he says. “One of them is long-haul trucking. These trucks are typically over 40-ft long, and they travel for days, from one side of the country to the other. Right now, there’s not enough battery capacity or sizes that are able to carry them throughout that journey. Nor is there enough fast-charge infrastructure to support them.”

But industry is tacking those long-haul challenges with, for example, megawatt charging stations, Moneeb adds.

Secondly, in the not-too-distant future, he envisions airplanes—both cargo and passenger—becoming electrified. He figures both of these segments will start transitioning in the next few years. “It’s coming,” he says confidently.

Skills and knowledge

Rather than just point out the obvious—that opportunities do exist—Moneeb and I explored the knowledge and skills one should have, possible pitfalls, and where you can go to learn more and network with electrification proponents.

“Requirements differ somewhat, depending on your jurisdiction, but you need to be a certified journeyman to undertake this work,” he says. “In addition, you should have experience with high-voltage equipment, and a willingness to work with local electric utilities.”

While all electric vehicles run on direct current, the charging industry has standardized on Level 2 (AC) or Level 3 (DC) charging. Moneeb describes the difference as being similar to filling up a jug with filtered water, where the water represents direct current. Level 2 charging is like filling that jug through the jug’s filter, while a Level 3 charger is like filling the jug with filtered water straight from the tap.

Industry has standardized on the kilowatt as the base unit for chargers. Level 2 (AC) chargers play in the range of 7 kW to 20 kW, while Level 3 chargers start at 20 kW and can go all the way up to 600 kW.

“And that’s very, very fast, because most commercial vehicle batteries sit at around 60 kWh capacity. So a 60-kW charger would fill them up in about an hour.”

One piece of the charging puzzle that’s not often discussed, and I’m glad Moneeb brought it up, is the software involved with charging infrastructure.

“The ability to diagnose and problem-solve using software is really a key enabler in this industry, because a lot of this stuff is not hardware driven,” he warns.

“Electric vehicles and charging stations are not the types of electrical assets that just sit still, as different loads are being applied at different times,” he notes. “And it’s the software that allows you to optimize the flow of electricity so that, for example, you’re not charging during peak periods.”

Avoiding peak periods is especially critical when you’re responsible for charging a fleet of cars or buses.

“These vehicles might never be plugged in all at the same time; some may be charging while the others on the road. But during the majority of the day, when only two or three are charging, your software takes control to optimize your load so that you don’t get a big bill at the end of the month.”

That software also puts additional control and knowledge in the hands of the user.

“Most chargers on the market are smart because we want to be able to access them remotely. In the case of a home charger, it connects to your Wi-Fi so that you can control and monitor, usually via an app on your Android and iPhone,” Moneeb says.

Meaning, when you come home at the end of the day and plug in your EV, it won’t start charging until you tell it to.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

“A major mistake made by a lot of consumers is they don’t check whether they have enough electricity for the type of charger they want to install,” Moneeb notes.

Even though a residential charger may only be the size of a shoebox, “it consumes as much energy as—if not more than—your washer or dryer,” he warns. “They are pulling a lot of power from your panel, so your home needs to be able to support 30-32 amps of extra load.”

The same issue is magnified when considering chargers at a shopping mall or commercial building.

“You need to check with the utility to verify whether you will have enough power for the number and size of chargers you wish to install,” Moneeb advises. “If you need a certain increase in power, and they can’t provide it, there’s no point in installing the biggest chargers you can find.”

That said, Moneeb says utilities are typically easy to work with and, in relatively short order, “they’ll get you the power you need”.

When switching from one fuel source to another, fleet operators should expect—and plan for—big operational changes.

“You’re going to have to factor more time for refuelling,” he says. “With a transit operation, riders are relying on those buses every day to get to work, to get to school, and so on. In the past, refuelling may have taken 10 minutes; now you need to pay greater attention to charging times, opportunity charging, avoiding peak rates when possible, and so on.”

Regular maintenance should not be overlooked, he adds. Items like those overhead chargers—pantographs—“are a moving part, right, so they need to be regularly greased, pressure-tested, and so on. There’s actually a big skill set involved with electrified transport”.

To Moneeb, it is equally important to consider your needs beyond the current day.

“A pilot project will cost you X amount of dollars but, if you know you’re going down the path of full or partial electrification, then it is best to consider those future needs and right-size your infrastructure properly. Do it right the first time.”

For example, consider oversizing your transformers so that it’s easier to add more chargers. “So, when you scale up, it’s really just plug and play from there,” he says.

Where to go for more

As this is an evolving market, it’s important to stay abreast of the latest developments. To that end, Moneeb says charging equipment manufacturers are an excellent resource, with at least one providing certification for specific charging systems.

Also, industry associations and events provide excellent opportunities for both staying abreast and networking with like-minded professionals and, quite possibly, owners and purchasers.

“For public transit electrification, the Canadian Urban Transit Association [CUTA] and Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium [CUTRIC] are really good groups with which to get involved,” Moneeb says. The lessons learned from transit authority members who have embarked on the path of electrification are shared with other members, to everyone’s benefit.

“It’s always good to get those lessons from early adopters so that others can avoid the same pitfalls,” Moneeb says.

He also pointed to Electric Mobility Canada’s annual conference, EV-VÉ, as a good place to learn, and to network with proponents of all manner of electrified transport.

Both the current and future states of electrified transport spell great news for the electrical community, because every single one of these electric vehicles requires charging stations and related infrastructure—and professionals who know how to make them work.

This feature—plus more great content—appears in the December 2021 edition of Electrical Business Magazine. Even more back issues are located in our Digital Archive.

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