UPS continues to clear major hurdles that have left most fleets shying away from taking a greater leap towards electric vehicles.
Just recently the global shipping giant announced that it’s developing an electric delivery van with Workhorse that will lower the cost of acquisition to that of a conventional vehicle.
Now the company is reporting that it has deployed a radical new charging technology for its EV fleet in London that doesn’t require a costly upgrade to the power grid.
“The breakthrough signals the beginning of the end of a reliance upon traditional combustion engine powered vehicles by allowing UPS to increase the number of EVs operating from its central London site from the current limit of 65 to all 170 trucks based there,” UPS reports in a press release published on Monday.
This major advance, believed to be the first time these systems have been deployed at this scale anywhere in the world, is the result of the Smart Electric Urban Logistics (SEUL) project with UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership, with funding secured from the UK’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles.
“UPS thinks this is a world first, right in the heart of a mega-city. We are using new technology to work around some big obstacles to electric vehicle deployment, heralding a new generation of sustainable urban delivery services both here in London and in other major cities around the world,” said Peter Harris, director of sustainability, UPS Europe.
“Electric vehicles are an integral component within UPS’s alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet,” Harris continued. “Our collaboration with UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership marks a major turning point in the cost effective deployment of electric vehicles which in turn will play a key role in ensuring the global trend toward urbanization is sustainable. We are applying new technology to make the charging process smarter and our delivery service cleaner.”
As a result of this initiative, combined with the advances the company announced just last month in reducing the cost of electric vehicles, UPS believes the day is rapidly drawing closer when the acquisition costs to put an electric vehicle on the road, including those associated with getting power to the vehicle, will be lower than the equivalent costs of its diesel counterpart.
According to UPS, this development will be instrumental in enabling electric vehicles to be deployed at scale in the world’s cities which is an essential component of tackling the air quality challenges in these urban environments.
“This trailblazing solution has enabled UPS to increase their electric vehicle fleet without upgrading their network connection, paving the way for future electrification of delivery vehicles in our cities,” said Ian Smyth of UK Power Networks Services. “We are delighted to work with UPS and our other partners to design, deliver and operate this sustainable smart-grid solution. This project will deliver a huge impact on improving the air quality for Londoners and contribute to UPS’s legacy of sustainability.”
A key part of this initiative is the use of onsite energy storage batteries. Although new batteries have been deployed at this stage, it’s possible that in the future these could be second-life batteries that have already been used in a UPS EV. Together with the smart-grid, this will pave the way toward a UPS EV infrastructure strategy that can make use of a conventional power upgrade, a smart grid, onsite storage, and in many cases, local power generation including solar and other alternative sources.
“Our previous work on electric freight vehicles has shown that local grid infrastructure constraints are one of the main barriers to their large-scale uptake,” said Tanja Dalle-Muenchmeyer, programme manager electric freight at Cross River Partnership. “We need to find smarter solutions to electric vehicle charging if we want to benefit from the significant air quality and environmental benefits these vehicles offer, and we believe this is such a solution.”
Addressing the Charging Challenge
Recharging a fleet of electric vehicles can be extremely expensive as it often requires upgrades to the external power grid, an unattractive option for most businesses or operators. This system will allow UPS to increase the number of EVs operating from the central London site from the current limit of 65 to all 170 trucks stationed there — without the need for such upgrades. This is achieved with a smart-grid which uses a central server which is connected to each EV charge post as well as the grid power supply and the on-site energy storage.
The system adopts an “intelligent” approach to charging by spreading this throughout the night so that the building can use the power it needs to run the business of logistics (lights, sortation machinery and IT) and ensure that all EVs are fully charged by the time they are needed in the morning, but at the same time never exceed the maximum power available from the grid.
As a result of this project and the learning that comes with the related investments, UPS can now tailor the lowest cost approach building by building and determine how best to adopt and charge a fully electric fleet. This will be accomplished by combining a variety of solutions including conventional power grid upgrade, smart grid, on-site energy storage with batteries and local power generation (using, for example, solar energy generated on facility roof tops).
UPS has a long history with EVs having first introduced them into its fleet in the 1930s, and, reintroduced modern EVs in 2001. Currently, UPS has more than 300 electric vehicles and nearly 700 hybrid electric vehicles deployed in Europe and the U.S.
The company recently ordered 125 new fully-electric Semi tractors to be built by Tesla in 2019, one of the largest pre-orders to date. Additionally, last September, UPS announced it will become the first commercial customer in the U.S. to start using three medium-duty electric trucks from Daimler Trucks Fuso brand, called the eCanter.