Charging up: The opportunities and challenges of running an electric scooter fleet

November 10, 2022

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electric scooter fleet

At Bolt, we always look for ways to improve the sustainability of our operations. But running a micromobility fleet sustainably involves several challenges. 

One that keeps us (and other operators) occupied is ensuring that charged e-scooters and e-bikes are in the right places at the right time. That’s why one of our focus points is to figure out how to keep our dockless fleet charged and available and — most importantly — how to do it sustainably. 

Moving towards a more sustainable operating model 

Gone are the days when the only way to recharge scooters and bikes was by transporting them in large vans to and from warehouses. Now, we can transport batteries — and swap them over on the spot. This drastically reduces energy consumption and congestion — smaller vans emit less CO2 and occupy less space. Moreover, our operational software helps us minimise the travel distance to recharge scooters and optimise routes.

electric van

But what more can we do to help European cities transition to net-zero emissions? We’ve already made enormous improvements in hardware design and lifecycle emission performance. But what about energy consumption and GHG emissions during the operational phase? 

One potential answer is going electric. Using EVs for scooter and e-bike maintenance and battery transport has a two-fold impact — a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and, locally, a reduction in air pollutants. 

Thus, our long-term objective is to transition to full-electric operations vehicle fleets (vans and cargo bikes) instead of diesel-powered ones. This is combined with 100% renewable energy-supplied warehouses to charge scooter/e-bike batteries and electric vans. The transition has already begun, and we operate a fully-electric fleet in several European cities, including Porto and Zaragoza. 

As Bolt embraces electrification, what challenges are we facing? 

Charging is slow: It takes six hours to charge an electric van. This means EVs can’t operate 24/7, and we can’t charge them all simultaneously. These potential delays in charging batteries at any time during the day reduce the flexibility of our operations. I.e., when we can’t charge our e-scooters and e-bikes when needed, we can’t keep our dockless fleet available for riders. 

Of course, some EVs have the possibility of fast charging (10–80% in 30–40 min). Still, in most situations, this option either isn’t available or feasible as it requires a high amount of electrical power. 

It would have been easier if EVs could charge the same way diesel vans are refuelled. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, as EVs are going nowhere without an interoperable charging network. Today in Europe, we’re at around 200,000 public charging points

To match 2030 targets of 40 million electric vehicles, utilities will need to increase the number of charging stations by 3 million — more than tenfold.

Even imagining the charging time of 30/40 min using fast charging technology, the autonomy (range) of diesel vans remains much higher than EVs. Each time a diesel van needs to be refuelled, an EV must be recharged multiple times. So for each diesel van replaced, we may need more than 1 EV (not a 1:1 ratio). This comes at a huge cost. Already, operations around charging batteries constitute a significant fraction of investment and operational costs. 

Let’s also not forget that the carbon footprint of EVs is certainly not neutral, and we need to consider the manufacture and recycling of batteries for electric vans. 

By transitioning to a 100% EV fleet, total CO2 emission reductions from fleet operations won’t be 100%. After all, EVs run on electricity, and the generation of electricity has an associated CO2 footprint, which depends on the baseline electricity mix. 

It’s not about ‘how’ but by ‘how much’

For these reasons, reducing emissions from operations isn’t necessarily just about full fleet electrification. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different solutions are suitable for different geographies and different regulations. And in most cases, different solutions will co-exist and complement each other. 

At Bolt, we’re testing different options that we can offer cities to reduce our operational emissions. For instance, Bolt is the first and the only micromobility operator to implement charging docks as a solution to solve parking and also charge electric scooters and bikes on streets. Charging docks are already reducing 300+ kg CO2 in Tallinn, Estonia, per month, with potential reductions (when the solution is scaled up) 10 times higher.  

scooter charging dock

Another approach to sustainable charging is something we’re testing in partnership with Swobbee. Swobbee provides battery-swapping kiosks that offer an efficient, safe, and decentralised solution for loading and swapping electric scooter batteries. So instead of going back and forth in a van to our warehouse, we can use cargo bikes to start and end our Berlin shifts at Swobbee stations — saving time and fuel. 

To understand the impact of these solutions, we’re monitoring the impact of our operations on emissions reduction. Our conclusions are that the best way to ensure sustainable operations is to adopt a flexible approach and allow different solutions to co-exist. 

And as for electrification — we’re moving with the industry as fast as we can. There’s a lot of excitement and great opportunity, but fleet electrification needs to be balanced with other alternative options.

The article was written by Tatiana Samsonova, Sustainability Knowledge Management Lead at Bolt.

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