Amping Up: Charging Infrastructure For Electric Trucks

Charging infrastructure has been identified as one of the largest unknowns and sources of anxiety for fleets considering near-term adoption of battery electric vehicles. And while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to charging, there is a roadmap that fleets considering deploying electric vehicles can follow to ensure they have a cost-effective charging strategy in place.

That roadmap includes the following steps:

  1. Engage the utility company
  2. Choose vehicles
  3. Determine charging needs
  4. Assess financing
  5. Procure charging components
  6. Design a site plan
  7. Apply for necessary permits
  8. Deploy charging infrastructure

 

Charging Infrastructure Basics

When planning for charging infrastructure, fleets must plan for three separate but related components: hardware, software/networking and maintenance. The hardware consists of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), also known as charging stations, which charge the batteries of electric vehicles. The most common type of EVSE is a plug-in charging station. At this point, charging station connectors are not standardized and there are a number of competing connector types.

EVSE offer two charging speeds that work for commercial vehicles: Level 2, which requires installation of charging equipment and a dedicated circuit of 20 to 100 amps, and DC fast charging, which requires installation of charging equipment and a dedicated circuit.

Wireless and conductive charging systems are also available, though much less popular except in some niche markets.

Charging software is key for easily and cost-effectively managing fleet charging operations and is now the main differentiator between EVSE provider companies. For example, software is what allows multiple chargers on-site to be able to communicate with one another to optimize sequencing, load management, and variable time-of-day electricity rates and other factors that ensure that a fleet is charging smartly.

Charging companies may offer very different maintenance packages. These may include services such as proactive monitoring and repair of equipment if needed.

Utilities and the Grid

Electric trucks will increase demand for electricity; as a result, grid capacity will need to be improved. Utilities may also need to develop new demand-management and/or storage solutions to help balance timing concerns with electricity supply and demand. New tariff structures may also be necessary to encourage smart charging when electricity supply is available, clean, and economical.

Procuring Charging Infrastructure and Electricity

There are two main business models for procuring charging stations and associated infrastructure:

  • By buying the stations outright, often through a request-for-proposal process
  • Through a lease in which the supplier owns the stations and the fleet simply pays a fee for using them

Other innovative business arrangements may be possible. For example, third parties could step in with capital to create turnkey systems with various usage rates, which could remove the site owner from the complexity of managing part or all of the charging system.

Recommendations

NACFE’s research revealed the following:

  • The focus of electric charging will be on private, “depot,” or “return-to-base” charging
  • Planning and permitting can be time-intensive
  • Fleets should work closely with local utilities, regulators, cities, neighbors, OEMs, and charging system providers
  • Fleets must develop a fairly sophisticated understanding of their existing electric infrastructure and demand, their electricity rates, and the types, number, duty cycles, and time available for charging of their vehicles
  • Planning should be done on a site-by-site basis
  • Programs to mitigate costs will speed the electrification process
  • Fleets should consider investing in smart networked charging software and services
  • Fleets should demand improvements from technology providers and utilities
  • Fleets should not draw rash conclusions in the first year of operation

Conclusion

Fleets, as well as utilities, regulators, and technology providers, are constantly learning and developing in this rapidly evolving space. Additionally, innovative utility programs and rate structures are allowing commercial battery electric vehicles to charge successfully and economically in growing areas of the country. However, to scale electric vehicle adoption across the nation, much broader and faster design and approval of these sorts of programs by utilities and regulators is needed.

Although not sufficient today, charging infrastructure is not an insurmountable problem. Lag between product introduction and infrastructure investment has been repeated many times, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be repeated for commercial battery electric vehicle charging infrastructure as well.

Decision-Making Tools

NACFE has designed several tools to help fleets better understand the steps to charging procurement, as well and the necessary components to any charging system.