Electric vehicles continue to be a mystery to most electric utilities. Slow to recognize the threats and opportunities they present, we have been equally slow to integrate them into our fleets or to analyze their potential impact to our electrical distribution infrastructure.
Operating a fleet of vehicles at an electric utility is an expensive proposition. Fuel, maintenance and capital replacement all contribute significantly to annual costs that seldom offer a reprieve. Thirsty for fossil fuel and covetous of frequent visits to the tune-up spa, they command a steady stream of dollars to keep them in ship shape.
But what are the potential cost benefits of moving an entire fleet to electric? Our vehicles seldom travel more than a few kilometers per day, often sit for extended periods of time operating in one location (think powerline vehicles) and not surprisingly, are seldom far away from a bountiful supply of electricity.
In 2011, Woodstock Hydro made the plunge into the EV world by purchasing a Nissan Leaf as a full fleet vehicle. A runner for conservation and administration staff, the vehicle would spend the majority of its life around the City, traveling roughly 5000 km per year. The side benefit of ownership would be the ability to analyze electricity charging demand and duration with a goal of extrapolating the impact of EV charging on our system.
The unexpected efficiency of the EV led to a puzzling exchange with the finance folks by year end.
Corporate financial officers can be a testy bunch. They like consistency and loath volatility. Programmed to sleuth out exceptions, they will pounce on any unexpected anomaly with the kind of gusto most of us would save for an overtime goal in the playoffs.
So when it came time to report on year end maintenance and fuel expenses for our new Nissan Leaf fleet vehicle, I found myself poorly equipped for battle with our much respected accountant.
The conversation in question went something like this:
“Your annual expense report for the electric car indicates you have no maintenance costs and just a few dollars showing for fuel”.
“But the odometer indicates 5000 km were driven, there must be expenses. You must have made a mistake”
The efficiency of the vehicle combined with the renewable energy fuel source took some explaining, but we finally agreed there was more exploring necessary and untapped opportunities to be had with the EV concept.
As a vehicle connected to over 3 KW of solar panels, the system generates roughly 3500 kwh/year. Based on our study of the EV, we confirmed the following statistics:
- A conservative average fuel economy is 5 km/kwh
- 1 KW of solar (4 x 250 watt panels) generates 1200 kwh/year
- Our Nissan Leaf operates as a fleet vehicle travelling 5000 km/year on 1 KW of solar.
Although the primary power source is free, we have capital and maintenance costs associated with the solar equipment. The efficiency of the overall system however, is something that has us thinking of future applications for electric mobility.