Fleet management requires intelligent charging systems for an e-fleet

Cologne The multi-storey car park at Bechtle’s main location in Neckarsulm has been transformed into a gas station over the past two years. There are already 120 charging points for electric cars, and more are planned. “The public charging infrastructure is not sufficient,” says Bechtle authorized signatory Uli Drautz, who is also head of group controlling, chief fleet manager and head of real estate. A “workplace solution” is expected.

The IT service provider is resolutely opting for electromobility. 40 percent of the 3,700 Bechtle company cars in Germany are to be powered by hybrid technology or fully electric by the end of the year. However, the new electricity consumers are not without problems for the networks. “If all vehicles were to charge at full power at the same time, that would put too much strain on the power grid,” says Drautz.

If the company exceeds the contractually agreed maximum power output at the site, there are costs. A so-called construction cost subsidy for the network expansion would be due. Running costs would also increase. In addition to the basic and working price, large companies also pay a performance price that depends on peak consumption.

With this problem, Bechtle is in good company. More and more companies are building their own charging stations for their fleet vehicles. And the same questions often arise: how can vehicles be prevented from causing expensive peak loads? And are there ways to counteract the already sharp rise in electricity costs?

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When looking for answers, companies quickly end up with charging management. Behind this are software solutions that control charging processes – and, for example, independently shift them in time. Because in the rarest of cases it is necessary for a parked vehicle to have to leave immediately. “It’s about taking advantage of the time when e-cars aren’t driving,” says Johann Olsen, co-founder of IO-Dynamics.

The Flensburg start-up is one of the younger providers on the growth market. Energy suppliers, car companies and wall box manufacturers are also involved – often in cooperation with software specialists. The Mobility House from Munich is one of the pioneers. Since it was founded in 2009, the technology company has won over 50,000 corporate customers, including Bechtle.

There, the software organizes that all e-cars at the charging points receive less electricity as soon as there is a risk of a peak load. When the logistics center is busy in the morning or the air conditioning in the offices is running at full power, the cars tend to be charged slowly. Lunch is usually quick – also because the company then generates its own electricity. There are seven photovoltaic systems at the site, including on the roof of the parking garage.

In addition to avoiding peak loads, optimized self-consumption is currently one of the strongest drivers for charging management. Because the combination of charging station and PV system is very popular in view of the enormous increases in energy prices. The Allgäu charging system specialist E-con, for example, reports an increasing demand. Five solar charging stations have already been set up for corporate customers, and further projects are being planned or implemented.

At the location of the parent company Alois Müller in Ungerhausen, self-consumption optimization was pushed ahead. With PV systems, a combined heat and power plant and a pellet heating system, the energy technology company generates 90 percent of its electricity needs itself. “This also includes using the electricity to charge the electric vehicles,” says a company spokesman. Around 30 e-cars are currently being supplied with electricity at ten charging points. The group of companies works together with IO-Dynamics for charging management.

Software loads on demand

In the increasingly competitive market, the start-up wants to stand out with its “needs-based charging” approach. The software should not only smooth out peak loads, but also ensure that the individual vehicles are loaded in the correct order. “Today, a first-come-first-serve logic is still widespread,” says founder Olsen. But that makes little sense. Because while some commuter company cars are parked in the company car park all day, vehicles used for sales, for example, are also needed during the day.

Fleet managers can therefore define schedules for individual cars in the software – or rely on a kind of autopilot. Because the system also tries to create optimized loading plans independently. Data from the telematics systems is used for this. This shows, for example, when a vehicle has covered which routes and what the current charge level is.

The smaller the power system, the more important intelligent charging solutions become. As flexible consumers, according to the grand vision, e-cars should also serve the power grid in the future. One idea: The vehicles could be charged especially when there is an abundance of green electricity in a region. Volkswagen and the East German distribution network operator Mitnetz-Strom, for example, started a pilot test with 20 vehicles in the summer.

The Mobility House is also pushing ahead with so-called “grid-friendly charging” – the first projects have been implemented in the Allgäu, among other places. With a fleet of 20 vehicles, each driving around 15,000 kilometers a year, the savings potential is between a good 1200 and 2400 euros per year, depending on the network operator and network charges, says Managing Director Marcus Fendt. In practice, however, the importance is still small. “Most network operators do not have sufficient economic incentives.” The framework conditions have also been very strict so far.

>> Read here: Used diesel trucks can be converted to electric drives.

But that could change soon. With the “Easter package”, the traffic light coalition commissioned the Federal Network Agency to draw up a nationwide standard set of rules. Car owners could be rewarded with lower network charges. Flexible electricity tariffs – so far implemented half-heartedly at best – could also create incentives.

In addition, politicians also want to advance vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. This means that electric cars feed electricity back into the grid when it is scarce. As short-term energy storage, the vehicles are intended to reduce the need for other battery storage systems. The technology is a funding focus of an 80 million euro research and development budget that the Federal Ministry of Economics recently made available. Many car manufacturers and network operators have already started pilot tests. Corporate customers are also involved in a BMW research project via the leasing subsidiary Alphabet.

For fleet operators, the technology would be a paradigm shift. From being purely a cost block, electric vehicles would become a source of income. IO-Dynamic founder Olsen estimates the revenue potential at 1,500 euros per year and car. The Mobility House Managing Director Fendt sees an implementation problem above all. “The technology has already proven itself,” he says. “There is still a lack of regulatory framework conditions.” Unlike stationary batteries, mobile electricity storage would still be subject to taxes and fees when charging and when supplying electricity.

Many charging management systems are already equipped for V2G – however, vehicles that support so-called bidirectional charging are just as rare as suitable charging stations. The Mobility House recommends customers not to wait for hardware – however, it is advisable to pay attention to open interfaces for possible extensions. “Currently it’s about building an infrastructure at all,” says Fendt.

Bechtle manager Drautz can tell you how demanding that alone can be. “If you do this company-wide, you’ll grab a bunch of thistles.” In addition to the headquarters, the IT service provider has set up charging points at 40 other locations so far. But sometimes the landlords block, then energy suppliers impose conditions again – there are no craftsmen to be found elsewhere, reports Drautz. “We will still be busy for a while before the infrastructure is in place at all 70 locations.”

More: Bosch or ZF – two German suppliers fight for the top

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