For many OEMs, both heavy- and light-duty, electricity is guiding them to the future. And with some scientists predicting 2036 as the danger threshold for global warming, you might see why there is such a push in that direction.
But what about the power needed to charge those battery-electric trucks, cars, scooters, and even motorcycles? Critics note that in some parts of the country that could mean burning more coal to create that energy, simply trading tailpipe emissions for powerplant emissions.
That’s not the case in California, which has been a leader in the push to electrify both commercial and passenger-vehicle transportation.
“California does not have any coal reserves or production and has phased out almost all use of coal for electricity generation,” Paul Griffo, senior advisor of corporate communications at Southern California Edison, told HDT.
California has always led the race towards a greener tomorrow, and with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035 (heavy-duty trucks have until 2045), that race is on an even tighter timetable.
According to Griffo, the state’s electric companies have been developing and implementing electric vehicle charging infrastructure programs that provide financial and technical assistance to commercial customers who want to provide EV charging for customers, the general public, employees, and their own fleets.
“We successfully launched Charge Ready Transport, a program to develop charging infrastructure to support the electrification of approximately 8,500 medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2024,” he adds. “Charge Ready Transport is the largest truck and transit charging initiative of its kind in the nation to help customers transition to electric fleets.”
Since coal has been phased out for the most part, the utilities in the state are moving toward charging the grid with natural gas, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. SCE’s goal is to deliver 80% carbon-free power to customers by 2030 and 100% carbon-free power by 2045.
Getting States, Cities Involved
To really get the current moving, you need to get more than just the utilities involved, according to Rocky Mountain Institute’s Jessie Lund, a senior associate with the sustainability think tank.
“State and local governments can encourage Level 2 charging by incentivizing workplace charging programs, streamlining local permitting processes, developing solutions for multi-unit dwellings and neighborhoods without garages, and via public education and outreach campaigns,” says Lund, who worked with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency on a report detailing a three-prong electrification framework for improving electric truck adoption by fleets.
States can also increase and improve electric charging through building codes that support infrastructure build-out in all new construction, as well as public-private partnerships to facilitate third-party ownership of infrastructure or regulatory encouragement of a residential “right to charge” program like in the Netherlands.
Both states and cities can also use the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Projection Tool (EVI-Pro) Lite, which is free via the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, to better understand the number of chargers required to support increased EV adoption and develop a master plan.
“The state can also encourage cities, counties, state agencies, transit agencies, and public universities to take advantage of reduced-price charging stations available through the Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative, a partnership between Climate Mayors, Sourcewell, and Electrification Coalition,” she adds.
What About the Grid?
Some have expressed concern that the increasing number of electric vehicles will add a significant grid load increase. California experienced rolling blackouts in August that frustrated residents. But Lund points to the widespread adoption of kitchen appliances in the 1940s and air conditioning in the 1970s, which had the same effect.
“There’s no reason why the grid can’t handle this new load, because the grid is designed to accommodate ‘peak’ demand loads, which occur — if at all — only a small fraction of the time in any year,” she says. “And EVs also represent the smartest and most flexible load ever introduced.”
Many electric vehicles can be charged during periods of low demand, such as at night, or even during the day when power availability from renewable resources like solar power exceeds demand. By creating a “smart-charging strategy,” utilities can optimize the peaks and valleys of grid loads.
“Electric utilities have been building their distribution grids to accommodate new technologies for over 100 years,” says SCE’s Griffo. “A critical aspect of our business includes our grid planning process to ensure the grid is ready, capable, and reliable to meet the demands of our customers.”
Utilities like SCE are already planning for the increased energy use from electric vehicles, forecasting needs over a five- to 10-year period and using that forecast to plan for upgrades.
“Electric vehicles are an emerging and growing component of that forecast, but we consider all of the things that create demand on our system,” says Griffo. “This requires us to work closely with our customers, including those associated with transportation electrification.”
Charging, Heavy-Duty Style
But how quickly will the trucking industry adapt to this new direction in alternative fuels? While the number of medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks under development or testing or already available for order continues to increase, what about the fleets themselves?
“No one can answer this question with any certainty, as much will depend on what policies and incentives are put in place and how the technology develops,” says Lund, who offered a few projections:
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Electrification Futures Study projects 20% of medium-duty vehicle sales and 13.5% of heavy-duty vehicle sales in the U.S. will be electric by 2030.
- Bloomberg NEF’s 2020 EV Outlook projects 9.5% of medium-duty vehicle sales and 5.8% of heavy-duty vehicle sales in the U.S. will be electric by 2030.
- McKinsey’s 2017 early adoption scenario projects 18% of medium-duty vehicle sales and 2% of heavy-duty vehicle sales in the U.S. will be electric by 2030.
- Woods McKenzie recently projected that 54,000 electric trucks would be on U.S. roads by 2025, approximately 27 times current stock.
Also, a recent memorandum of understanding that was signed by 15 states and the District of Columbia pledges to develop a plan to eliminate diesel emissions by 2050, which indicates that states may be moving toward zero-emission trucking technologies faster than previously thought.
“The trucking sector is far from homogenous, and as such, RMI and NACFE expect it will electrify in waves, as the technology develops,” Lund says. “Yard tractors are already in the process of electrifying, along with transit buses, which, while not trucks, will provide insights into heavy-duty vehicle electrification that trucking fleets can leverage. We expect to see urban delivery vans and medium-duty freight trucks electrify next, followed by regional-haul vehicles, and finally, long-haul trucks. Pilot projects are already underway in many of these sectors.”
One such real-world project is happening in Southern California, where Penske Truck Leasing purchased, built, and is operating 21 charging stations at its San Diego, Chino, Anaheim, Temecula, Ontario, and La Mirada facilities. But before making the move to electric, the company suggests doing a little research.
“Begin with education and do your homework,” says Mike Barnes, senior regional facilities manager at Penske Transportation Solutions. “Determine what you hope to achieve as a fleet by going electric. Is it financially driven? Regulatory-driven? This will help define your needs and next steps.”
Barnes also suggest connecting with vendors that specialize in helping companies develop and build EV charging stations, as well as a fleet’s utility provider to make sure the site is viable for this type of infrastructure.
“It all continues to circle back to your utility partner,” he adds. “They have to be able to provide you with the electrical infrastructure. When talking to your utility provider, make sure you are explaining your plans – timeframe, scope and fleet forecast. The utility provider will look at the power they have at the street level and determine if they need to scale up and prepare.”
When it comes to setting up your own infrastructure, most fleets will want to ensure they are seeing a return on investment. But, like everything in its earliest adoption, EV infrastructure can be expensive.
“Until everything comes down in cost, it’s all about scalability,” says Barnes. “To make your ROI more attractive, maximize your infrastructure – only install what you absolutely need, with the option to grow.”
Fleets can also look into grant and incentive opportunities to offset their initial investment. But, in the end, Barnes suggests patience.
“Permitting and sourcing and installing equipment takes time. Account for potential delays in your timeline. There is no wrong answer, because it’s all still in its infancy and changing constantly.”