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Federal Fleet of Zero-Emission EVs Requires More Energy and Infrastructure

President Biden's Federal Sustainability Plan requires federal agencies to transition the largest vehicle fleet in the world to all electric by requiring that 100% of new light-duty vehicle acquisitions be zero emission electric vehicles (ZEVs) by 2027, and that 100% of new medium and heavy-duty vehicle acquisitions be ZEVs by 2035.

Many of our previous posts have focused on privately owned electric vehicles: commercial charging concerns, expanded charging infrastructure needs, and whether the grid is prepared to handle the increase in energy demand that will accompany expanded EV usage. When publicly owned zero-emission electric vehicles are added to the mix, electric energy demands and infrastructure needs will be even greater.

Electric utilities must begin preparing today for a future with not only widespread private EV usage, but also extensive reliance on federally owned and operated EVs.

Federal Motor Vehicles on the Road Today

To better understand the significance of this plan, it’s important to know exactly how many federally owned motor vehicles exist within the United States today. The US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, shares statistics on publicly owned vehicles in 2022. Their data shows that there are nearly 570,000 total federally owned motor vehicles, consisting of nearly 63,000 automobiles, 6,000 buses, and 500,000 trucks and truck tractors.

State-specific fleets range according to state population size and total area. Over 65,000 vehicles are federally owned in California, of which nearly 58,000 are trucks; Texas also has a large fleet, with over 46,000 total vehicles, approximately 40,000 of which are trucks. In contrast, states with a smaller population have much smaller federal vehicle fleets. Alaska has just over 4,000 federally owned vehicles, most of which are trucks; Delaware has just over 1,500 vehicles, most of which are trucks.

Of course, not all these combustion engine vehicles will be replaced with zero-emission vehicles at the same time. In fact, replacing all these vehicles will likely take decades. However, it is essential that electric utilities understand the increased amount of charging infrastructure that will be needed, as well as the increased demand for electric energy that the grid will face. Beginning calculations and models of these statistics today will ensure that electric utilities are prepared for a large-scale roll out of ZEVs.

Also important to note is the number of automobiles, buses, and trucks and truck tractors found in state, county, and municipal fleets: nearly 4 million total, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In addition, there are nearly 280 million cars and light duty trucks and almost 14 million heavy duty trucks registered in the United States. Many of these vehicles will be replaced with EVs on a timeline that mirrors the federal government’s transition to ZEVs.

Expanded Charging Infrastructure for Zero-Emission Vehicles

Comparing charging infrastructure needs of ZEV automobiles to that of ZEV trucks is like comparing apples to watermelons. ZEV trucks require ten times more charging power than ZEV automobiles. Plus, ZEV trucks will have greater demand for usage than ZEV automobiles, such as traveling further distances, which will require access to charging stations in consistent increments along the route.

Transitioning the country’s current fleet of traditional combustion engine trucks to ZEVs, even over time, will require a massive build out of EV charging infrastructure. When almost 500,000 gas powered trucks are converted to ZEV trucks, about 25,000 500 KWH chargers will be needed to recharge these trucks across the US.

In comparison, transitioning the current fleet of combustion engine automobiles to ZEVs will require far fewer new level 3, 100 KWH chargers. Converting today’s nearly 63,000 publicly owned automobiles to ZEVs will require an additional 3,000 100 KWH chargers to be constructed. Note, even more 100 KWH chargers would be necessary to support growing EV ownership in the private sector; these commercial chargers could be used by both publicly and privately owned EVs/ZEVs.

Increased Energy Demand from ZEVs

When all federal ZEV chargers are operating, the demand on the electric grid will be 300 MW for automobiles and 12,500 MW for trucks. Trucking company warehouses and truck stops that currently require as little as 250 KW for lighting, heating, etc. will require 5,000 KW for charging ZEV truck batteries. In states where engine block heaters are used to keep internal combustion engines warm, heated garages will also be needed to optimize battery performance.

This is a significant increase in energy demand that must be met by renewable energy sources if ZEVs are to remain a truly climate-friendly piece of the Federal Sustainability Plan.  

Long Timeline for ZEV Charging Infrastructure

Electric utilities should begin preparing today for the increased charging infrastructure and electric energy transmission that will be needed to power a large fleet of zero-emission vehicles. Facilities, such as new transmission lines, distribution lines, and substations, will require many new components: power transformers, circuit breakers, poles, cables, etc. Power transformers can take 52 weeks or more to manufacture and deliver to a job site. Circuit breakers and structural components can take 12 to 26 weeks to manufacture and deliver. This does not include the planning and development phase of the project.

Electric utilities need to begin developing plans for facility upgrades 36 to 48 months before the upgrade will be needed. In all, electric utilities may need five to ten years to build enough new substations, as well as transmission and distribution lines, to provide energy for EV chargers.

The roll out of new infrastructure to support expanded EV charging will be easier in areas where there is already extra transformer capacity and distribution line capacity available. In these locations, new EV charging stations could be ready as soon as 2027. However, when additional charging infrastructure is needed in electrically congested areas, significant planning and construction will be necessary. These locations may not be prepared for expanded EV charging until 2035 or later.

Preparing for ZEVs in 2027 and Beyond

Electric utilities need to create 5 year and 10 year plans that outline the geographic, political, and governmental impacts of electrification on their transmission, distribution, and substation facilities. Each plan must include sensitivity analysis that demonstrates minimum EV purchases, maximum EV purchases, and best-case EV purchases. Plus, each plan must include optimal EV charging time analysis when renewable energy resources are the primary source of electric energy.

Are you an electric utility professional who is interested in learning more about how you can prepare your system to support expanded zero-emission vehicles in the public sector? Contact us for a free consultation or check out our EV blog collection.

This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

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