Addressing challenges in the commercial EV space: An interview with Mark Braby of Synop

Earlier this year, energy management provider for commercial fleets, Synop, announced the launch of Synop Link to enable streamlined, automated and seamless management of distributed energy resources (DERs) at onsite commercial EV fleet charging stations. REM spoke to Synop’s Chief Commercial Officer Mark Braby to discuss how this new system will address complex challenges in the commercial EV space, as well as enabling greater sustainability.
Addressing challenges in the commercial EV space: An interview with Mark Braby of Synop
Mark Braby, Chief Commercial Officer, Synop. Courtesy of Synop.

Can you give me a background to Synop and what it does?

Synop started with the thesis that measuring and modeling electric vehicle performance is paramount to being able to operationalise them at scale. From vehicles, we work backwards to managing chargers directly and on top of this we build abstractions such as energy management and billing.

37 percent of our carbon emissions comes from the transit sector. This means electrification of commercial fleets presents a great opportunity to make serious progress to slow and reverse climate change. However, one impediment to electrifying large fleets of vehicles is tooling to help keep those vehicles on the road.

This means actively monitoring vehicles to make sure they have enough battery, that chargers are up and running, and that the schedules for vehicles and chargers is automatically managed by software vs requiring fleet managers and depot operators to do so respectively. This is where Synops tooling comes into play - putting EV fleet operations on autopilot by ingesting vehicle telemetry, directly connecting to and managing chargers, and building abstractions on top of these foundations to manage energy across fleets of vehicles and sites of chargers.

As the leading enterprise platform for EV fleets, we are accelerating the transition to commercial electric vehicles by seamlessly connecting vehicles, chargers, and the grid through end-to-end software solutions that optimise EV charging and energy management. Using AI-based platform automation, telematics integrations, and real-time monitoring tools, we offer a vendor-agnostic software suite, which includes charging management, energy management (VPP/V2G capabilities), vehicle management, and payment management, to maximise EV fleet uptime, minimise charging costs, and generate revenue through smart grid participation.

Our platform's interoperability empowers customers to use any charger, any vehicle, and any utility across a wide range of industries. We sell software directly to commercial EV fleets as well as through channel partners, including auto OEMs, infrastructure providers and utilities; it may be purchased off the shelf, white labeled, or integrated into an existing platform. Our purpose is to improve the world by helping decarbonise global transportation through electrification.

How has commercial EV adoption soared recently and what does its growth pattern look like looking ahead?

Commercial EV adoption has increased dramatically over the past few years as vehicles have become available and the benefits of driving EVs have become apparent. The commercial EV sector is on an impressive upswing, especially in the heavy truck market with a notable 250 percent growth. While challenges remain for long-haul EV trucks, their adoption for regional deliveries is thriving now across all states. The commercial electric cargo van segment is also experiencing remarkable growth, with over 14000 electric cargo vans deployed in the US, the majority, in the first half of 2023. This growth pattern underlines the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of EVs in commercial operations.

In the broader context, the surge in commercial EV adoption signifies a pivotal shift towards sustainability in logistics and transportation, reflecting a growing corporate commitment to environmental stewardship. Innovations in battery technology, charging infrastructure, and fleet management solutions are key drivers, enhancing vehicle range and reducing downtime, thus making EVs increasingly viable for a wide range of commercial applications. These advancements, coupled with supportive policies and incentives, are likely to further accelerate and scale the transition to electric fleets. 

What kind of faults are we talking about with regard to the onsite power generators, batteries, and solar arrays built by fleets to support their EVs?

The types of faults associated with onsite power generators, batteries, and solar arrays built by fleets to support their EVs and charging depots include operational challenges like system overloads and power outages. Primarily, the faults result in network downtime and in general, failed connectivity, coordination, and optimisation of all the different components that go into a fleet charging site. This can include integration of DERs such as solar, storage, and generators.

Faults can occur if, for example, battery storage banks are not close to fully charged during peak vehicle charging times, when generators alone cannot produce enough electricity to power the charging depot, which may lead to the microgrid shutting down to protect the system. These components traditionally lack internet connectivity, relying instead on local network communication, which can further complicate the coordination and optimisation of the fleet charging site. This context emphasises the importance of addressing issues such as network downtime and ensuring the seamless integration and management of DERs.

What are the cost implications of these faults?

Network outages can bring an operational fleet site to its knees. If devices aren’t communicating it can cause downtime for chargers and fleet vehicles, which can be devastating to a fleet operation.

What is Synop Link and what does it do exactly?

SynopLink is a cutting-edge device designed to boost both resilience and control at onsite charging depots for electric vehicle fleets. It acts as an edge device, enabling smooth and adaptable communication with onsite (local) equipment and extends the capabilities of Synop’s Energy Management software to manage and enhance the performance of these assets directly at the edge.

This innovative solution provides reliable site-level connectivity and ensures operational stability, even during outages. SynopLink interfaces directly with various local devices and relays all gathered data to the Synop cloud platform. The platform then controls, manages and fine-tunes the operation of chargers and other connected devices to ensure maximum uptime and minimised costs. In the event of communication breakdowns, SynopLink maintains its connection with the chargers and devices, ensuring uninterrupted operation without needing a link to the cloud.

SynopLink connects to local devices, including Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), via a cellular-enabled local controller, guaranteeing cloud connectivity for real-time, two-way communication. It also offers flexible communication options with local devices through Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or cellular connections and supports seamless integration with various equipment protocols.

What benefits in terms of cost savings and efficiency does it offer for fleets?

It depends on the use case, but in general optimised charging can save fleets 20-50 percent off their energy bill.  Avoiding downtime of the Charging Management System (CMS) and fleets can be crucial for maintaining operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Continuous operation without interruptions ensures that the fleet vehicles are always ready for the next task, preventing potential revenue loss and customer dissatisfaction that can arise from service delays.

Is the system currently up and running and if so what kind of response have you had from customers so far?

Response has been strong for the solution as an added component to the Synop product suite. Industry leaders have recognised the value it brings, particularly in enhancing connectivity and resilience within operational frameworks. We have received many questions about how to connect to different DERs (distributed energy resources) and what happens in the event of a comms outage, and this solution answers those questions.  The frequent inquiries about integration with various DERs and contingency measures for communications disruptions underscore the solution’s relevance and its capability to address critical operational challenges.

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