Will Solar Power be a Critical Component of Fleets Going Green?

Gretchen ReeseJune 18, 2021

The internal combustion engine and use of fossil fuels undoubtedly transformed the way that humans lived. Because of inexpensive, accessible electricity and fuel-run transportation, our society has been able to achieve the level of innovation that it has today. Still, growing concern about climate change is forcing us to rethink our energy consumption and generation methods going forward.

Hand-in-hand with the transition to electric vehicles, comes the need for clean, renewable energy sources. It is projected that renewable energy will be the largest electricity source by 2050, as the world moves to completely phase out fossil fuels. With more fleets looking to take on EVs, it is essential to also consider how these EVs are being powered and whether or not it is a clean, sustainable practice.

Why are fleets going green?

Fleet managers are feeling pressure from all sides to ditch their internal combustion engine vehicles and employ greener technology. The world is in a race against time to make reparations for global warming, and with transportation being the biggest contributor, fleet managers hold a lot of responsibility in making a change.

We recently surveyed 200 of our biggest customers regarding their plans and motivations for switching to electric vehicles. The top answers were “reduction of CO2 emissions,” as well as “fuel savings.” This shows how the benefit of going green is two-fold; Companies can do their part in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, while also cutting fossil fuel consumption and saving a substantial amount of money. A win-win situation.

Additionally, with a heightened focus on climate change this year, politicians are pushing business leaders to act with urgency. To facilitate the transition, numerous grants, incentives and tax breaks are being offered for companies and individual consumers who adopt electric vehicles, with the hope that significant change will be made in the upcoming decades.

Solar power remains a viable option

It has been clearly established that electric vehicles are a more sustainable alternative to ICE vehicles. Their “zero-emissions” guarantee is attractive and promising for a healthier planet. But what people often don’t realize, is that these vehicles do in fact produce emissions indirectly, such as during production and electrical charging. What they don’t produce are local, tailpipe emissions as traditional ICE vehicles do.

Bearing this in mind, the conversation now becomes a question of whether electricity generation is as green as it could be. If a state adopts an impressive number of EVs but is powering them on a “dirty” grid that relies mostly on coal, the net benefit is significantly smaller.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, 60 percent of the country’s electricity comes from the burning of fossil fuels, 20 percent from nuclear power, and another 20 percent from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. As more power plants are needed in the upcoming decades to support the increased need for electricity, investment into renewable energy infrastructure should take high priority. The overarching goal should be a switch to electric transport, powered by decarbonized, renewable energy.

The challenges that lie ahead

Solar energy has grown rapidly in the past decade, reaching 97 gigawatts of capacity by 2020 (enough to power 18 million homes). Though only 11 percent of the renewable energy consumed in the US is solar, this figure is expected to more than double by 2050.

It is an attractive resource because it doesn’t produce air pollutants, and the generation of solar energy typically has little to no effect on the environment. On the other hand, solar energy comes with its limitations. Sunlight can be inconstant depending on location, time of day and year, and weather, making the use of solar panels less cost effective in some places.

Solar panels must also cover as much surface area as possible in order to collect a workable amount of sunlight. Therefore, lack of space could be a limitation for generating solar energy.

Will fleets be able to power their charging stations from the sun?

Fleet managers across the country are considering solar energy as a viable option for powering their EVs and reducing pressure on the electric grid. Many EVs on the market today feature a solar panel roof to work in addition to traditional charging stations or as an extra charging component in addition to the regenerative breaking technology in hybrid vehicles. 

Some local government fleets are also taking matters into their own hands and creating their own power supplies, otherwise known as “micro-grids”. Jersey City has created its own self-sustainable municipal micro-grid to support the city’s fleet of EV garbage trucks, along with some other government EVs. The micro-grid was created independently of the larger electrical network, with the intention of being able to cover the fleet through any type of power outage or deficiency and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

Similarly, the City of Orlando is expanding their current solar array and purchasing a cargo container sized battery. The system was paid for by the Orlando Utilities Commission and will power Orlando’s 32 electric vehicles, with any extra energy generated flowing right into the city’s grid. This plan shows the endless opportunities that renewable energy can provide, as the city will be able to power the government fleet with clean energy, while transferring any excess into the city’s supply.

All things considered, solar power, along with other renewable energy sources, will play a critical role in EV success and the road to zero-emissions. Like EV implementation, a major switch to solar power will not happen overnight. As governments and leaders continue to push for investment into solid infrastructure, more communities across the country will be able to rely on a clean electrical grid. If you’re interested in learning about how Utilimarc works with municipality and government fleets to help scale for new electric vehicle initiatives, schedule a demo with a member of our analytics team.

Gretchen Reese

Growth Marketing Manager

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