Infrastructure Research: Holiday Shopping & Electric Vehicles

With Thanksgiving behind us in the U.S., that can only mean one thing for all the bargain-hunters out there: deals galore! Starting with Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and lasting all the way through early January, retailers will be offering steep discounts on electronics, clothing, and many other products to entice shoppers to spend money.

This time of year, electricity and transportation usage typically begins to surge as the weather gets colder and people travel to visit family and friends for the holidays. All of that shopping – much of which is done online nowadays – also puts a strain on the system. After all, those gifts do need to be delivered.

The holiday shopping season matters a lot to FedEx. One of the company’s long-term goals is to see increased electrification of short-haul surface transportation, and it has been working with GE, Con Edison and Columbia University since 2011 on a pilot project in New York City on how to build effective vehicle charging stations. Charging a large number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the same building could tax the local grid and require costly utility infrastructure upgrades. The advantages are clear; driving on electric power vs. diesel costs nearly 70% less per mile for these trucks. But, charging at the wrong times, near peak loads, can nearly wipe out those savings. That’s where GE comes in.


In partnership with Columbia University’s Center for Computational Learning Systems, we have implemented a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that uses artificial intelligence / machine learning to take into account factors such as holidays and package volume to figure out how much electricity the electric truck fleet needs. Our algorithms make sure GE charging stations (EVSEs) get that electricity to the vehicles, cost-effectively, and with the lowest impact to the grid – while making sure your packages and FedEx’s electric-vehicle delivery trucks don’t get stranded.

How do we do it? Our algorithms figure out the optimum peak power at which truck charging is allowed. Think about electricity usage in terms of peaks and valleys – our system is optimized to fill in the valleys instead of making a new peak. This minimizes costly demand charges passed on by the utility, which are based on the peak amount of power used in a 15 minute window during the monthly billing cycle. These charges can really add up.

By minimizing demand charges, a company with a fleet of 100 EVs could save more than $10,000 a month with our system – that’s on top of the normal fuel and maintenance savings. And, data shows that our technology would allow more than 50 trucks to get an electric fill-up before a new demand charge is incurred – four times what’s possible today.  Down the road, our algorithms could even be incorporated into vehicle-to-grid technology; how cool would it be to have EVs return power to the grid and help stabilize it?!

Who would have guessed that deal-hunting mattered to the work we do to keep improving infrastructure and make transportation go greener! Speaking of deals, my plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) should be just about done getting its free charge of the day at work. J

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