Haley Bucelewicz | 05.29.19

As the cost of battery technology continues to fall, the prevalence of electric vehicle (EV) fleets becomes more likely. This presents both opportunities and challenges for service organizations with mobile workforces.

On the upside, EV fleets have potential for massive cost savings. Though electric vehicles cost more than gas or diesel models during purchase, they are much cheaper to own due to lower operating costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, charging an electric car costs about half as much as fueling a gas-powered car. Plus, they’re much more eco-friendly than the gas guzzlers on the road.

The downside is the technical and logistical challenges that EV fleets present. At the root of these challenges is the limited range of electric vehicles and the need to plan around frequent and long stops to recharge. Not to mention, to successfully schedule and route these fleets, service organizations have to consider a myriad of factors.

Service organizations wishing to adopt an electric fleet and overcome these challenges need to invest in an optimized field service management (FSM) solution, with exceptional planning, scheduling, and routing capabilities. In this post we dive deeper into the challenges around managing an electric vehicle fleet and offer ways to handle the logistics.

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Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Limited Range Means Logistical Challenges for EV Fleets

The main disadvantage of electric vehicles is that most travel less distance than gas powered vehicles. With the exception of luxury models, most EVs range between 60 and 120 miles per charge, while gas vehicles average around 300 miles.

This is problematic with a mobile workforce that spends a lot of time travelling, especially when charging stations are far less common than gas stations. And public charging stations can get very busy during peak hours, meaning a long queue.

Likewise, electric vehicles take longer to “refuel” than gas-powered vehicles. While fast charging stations can recharge the battery in 30 minutes, most can take up to 8 hours to fully recharge. Either way, it’s a lot longer than the few minutes that it takes to fill up a gas tank.

Because of these constraints, organizations using EV fleets need to plan their routes and schedules more carefully, and incorporate recharging. Otherwise, you risk your drivers losing power on the way to a job. Between late arrivals, missed appointments, and last-minute reschedules, your customers won’t be happy.

The EV Optimization Challenge

When planning and scheduling a mobile workforce, field service organizations have a lot to consider and keep track of—resources, availability, skills, equipment, parts, and more. In fact, with just 15 mobile workers, this already means over a trillion scheduling and routing combinations to consider. A fleet of electric vehicles only brings more factors to the table. Here are just a few things organizations will have to incorporate when planning a day of service:

  • Maximum vehicle range – so technicians know when they’re almost out of fuel
  • Mileage tracking – so technicians know when it’s time for a charge
  • Available charging stations – which are closest, which are on route, which are least busy
  • Recharge times – time to charge will need to be included in the schedule

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Not to mention, with limited range, organizations will also have to consider factors that may affect the range even further, including:

  • Weight of occupants or payload
  • Wind and rain
  • Use of A/C and heater
  • Driving style and speed

Creating an optimal schedule is complex enough without additional electric vehicle details to consider. Because of this, the need for the right FSM solution to automate and optimize this process is crucial.

The Need for an Optimized Field Service Management Solution

To effectively route and schedule an electric fleet, organizations need a holistic field service management solution that provides visibility into planning, scheduling, and routing. This coupled with intelligent and predictive technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help your organization take advantage of the benefits of EV fleets. Here are just a few ways that the right FSM solution can help:

Capacity Planning

Capacity planning is the process of determining the amount of field resources required to meet projected demand. A lot of the time, “resources” refer to the field service technicians, their skills, and equipment. With EV fleets, battery charge (and charging stations) is an additional resource to account for. Because losing power can’t be solved by a short stop at the gas station, charges need to be planned to ensure your workforce gets to every job, while maximizing cost, time, and utilization of other resources.

With a single FSM solution that includes scheduling, forecasting, and planning, your organization has full visibility to make better decisions about when and where to charge up. You can also store data like maximum vehicle range and mileage in the solution to determine how much charge will be needed to meet the day’s jobs.

Schedule Optimization

Because EV charging takes significantly more time and needs to be done more frequently than gas or diesel fueling, it needs to be added in the schedule along with the work. Depending on your business goals, you’ll likely have your own preferences for how to schedule the charge. In other words, how much of the schedule do you want to allocate to charging and how much to work? You’ll want to consider:

  • Preferred location to charge – Do you dispatch to the closest stop or the one with the shortest queue?
  • Charging stop preferences – Would you prefer fewer stops for longer times? Or more stops and shorter charging times? Could you get away with a 30 minute visit to the closest charging point during lunch?

Regardless of your objectives, optimizing the schedule to meet your business goals and maximize efficiency will require an FSM that automatically and intelligently takes this data into consideration.

Route Optimization

With stops to charging stations to plan for, effective routing is critical. You don’t want your workforce running out of charge on the way to a customer because you didn’t account for traffic and the added energy it burns. And when a resource is running low on battery, you don’t want to send them on a route without a charging station on the way.

With a combination of real-time traffic and predictive travel, your workforce can complete more jobs per day, even with charging. That’s because this combination allows you to find the optimal route to each job and proactively update the schedule when the driver is in jeopardy of a late arrival or missed appointment.

AI, ML, and Predictive Field Service

An FSM solution powered by AI, machine learning, and big data, can enable accurate predictions about things like battery usage for a trip or the likelihood of factors that can decrease range. This helps you make more effective decisions when dispatching your EV workforce. Here are just a few examples:

  • By keeping track of a driver’s history and range on a particular route, machine learning can give you an accurate prediction of the battery usage by either that driver or that particular route.
  • Based on historical or real-time weather conditions, you can predict the range on a particular day or time period. For instance, in the summer months you might account for decreased range because of increased A/C use (or the heater in winter). There might also be periods when inclement weather is more likely to cause a range decrease.
  • Based on historical and real-time traffic conditions you might know that traffic will be heavy during the morning and afternoon rush hours. This means you’ll want to schedule a charge in the middle of the day when traffic is lighter, or during lunch when it won’t impact technician productivity.

AI-powered FSM solutions also update the schedule or route automatically—in real time—based on these predictions.

Ultimately, there’s lots of opportunity in terms of cost savings and environmental impact when using an electric vehicle fleet for field service. But before transforming your fleet, ensure you have a field service management solution in place that allows you to overcome the obstacles that come with it.

Learn how Click Field Service Edge can help your organization increase the efficiency of your fleet dispatch and management.