Charging Forward with Electric Trucks
As fleets move from pilot testing battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to deploying them in their regular day-to-day operations, fleet managers are recognizing the challenges of charging electric trucks effectively and cost efficiently. Charging is fundamentally different from diesel fueling and requires an understanding of the physical charging infrastructure and the cost structure of electricity, and how the two interact. Fleets need to budget sufficient time and resources to understand truck charging basics, as they embark on the careful planning required to create a system that works best for them.
Fleets need to know how much energy they will need to keep their fleet operating, add a margin for uncertainty, and then design a charging system that can reliably deliver that power to their vehicles in the least expensive way.
Even if a fleet chooses a specialist firm to design and install their charging infrastructure, it is prudent to understand the elements of a successful charging infrastructure system.
Charging Infrastructure Basics
Fueling BEVs economically requires charging in a way that works with the economics of the electric grid: minimizing demand (the maximum rate which you are charging) and maximizing charging during off-peak, low-rate periods (the time of day you are charging). Charging infrastructure is a combination of:
- Hardware, including the number of charger plugs, their power levels, and the equipment to deliver that electricity, and
- Rigorous management, generally via software, of overall electricity demand and cost to provide the necessary amount of charge so the trucks can do their jobs at the lowest cost.
Fleets can choose from a variety of charger types to match chargers to their vehicle charging needs. Level 2 AC provides 208/240V AC at up to 80 amps to provide up to 19.2 kW of power and is sufficient for many commercial truck fleets, particularly those that use Class 3 through 6 vehicles, return to base, and are parked for a long period (e.g., overnight).
Level 3 DC charging, more commonly referred to as DC Fast Charging (DCFC), is a broad category of charging that delivers DC, rather than AC, electricity to the vehicle, eliminating the need for on-vehicle conversion from AC to DC. DCFC provides charging at up to 350 kW or higher.
Fleets need to select a set of chargers to provide the electricity they need in a way that minimizes overall total cost of operation, including capital cost for the infrastructure, cost for electricity, any associated equipment, and maintenance and repair costs.
Key things to consider with charging systems include electrical hardware, such as transformers, electrical switchgear, charger types, conduit and wiring asphalt, as well as concrete, trenching, striping, and landscaping required for installation, and charging management systems, networking, and maintenance contracts to ensure the equipment is used most effectively.
10 Steps to Implement Truck Charging
Creating and deploying an effective plan for fleet electrification requires considering many variables. While each project involves some bespoke engineering since each site and project is different, there are some common elements to successful infrastructure deployment.
- Assign an internal manager: Select someone to champion the project internally and work with all stakeholders
- Consult with key stakeholders early and often: This includes utility, landlord, AHJ, OEM, etc.
- Assess electrical service: Work with your utility and contractor to understand current service capacity, additional capacity needs, timelines and costs.
- Select electric vehicles: Choose vehicles based on your fleet’s usage, duty cycles, distance traveled, load characteristics, etc.
- Select chargers: Choose chargers based on fleet requirements, utility cost structure, and OEM’s recommendations.
- Assess Financing: Explore local, state, federal, and utility incentives, grants, and rebates as well as ownership models.
- Procure charging components: This includes hardware, software and service plan.
- Design site plan/permit the project: Consider hiring an engineering team.
- Construct charging infrastructure: Maintaining schedule is paramount, mitigating delays is a team effort.
- Commission charging hardware: Use authorized commissions agents for this step.
There are many factors that go into successfully installing an electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The study team offers the following recommendations on how to implement a successful charging infrastructure.
- Electric trucks and chargers must work together. Charging infrastructure is just one part of a system integrating your vehicle needs, electricity rate structure, and the timing and cost of bringing additional electricity to your site. Choose individual components only after designing the entire system, not only for initial implementation, but for potential future needs. Choose equipment with a track record for reliability and make plans for its maintenance. Not all chargers work well with all vehicles. Work closely with your vehicle manufacturer(s) as you select charging equipment. Expect the process to be iterative.
- Your utility is a key partner. Electric trucks use a lot of power, probably more than you currently have available. Your power usage will grow as your fleet’s use of BEVs grows. Determine how much power you need in both the short- and long-term to fully implement your plans. Learn how much power you already have on site to charge trucks, and how much more you will need to get beyond the pilot stage. It is essential that you meet in person with your utility as soon as you begin thinking about electric trucks, as they will be your partner in providing the power you need. Increasing power delivery to your facility can take time. Coordinate closely with your utility and modify your implementation schedule to assure you have power when you need it.
- Use and design greatly affect charging cost. Both AC and DC chargers are available in wide variety of power outputs and technologies appropriate for any vehicle. In general, spreading charging over the longest time and using lower charging power makes both the charging equipment and electricity costs lower and maximizes battery life. Design your charging strategy to make the best use of vehicles’ scheduled downtime. Charging management software can pay for itself by ensuring your vehicles are ready to roll when needed at the lowest cost.
- The transition requires staff and attention. The transition to BEVs and associated charging infrastructure requires attention and expertise. You need to have a single point of contact with internal and external authority and to lead the project. If your utility has a BEV team, reach out to them. Talk to other fleets and resources like your local Clean Cities Coalition. You may benefit from hiring an expert consultant at the start of your move to owning BEVS.
- Consider other charging business models. You may wish to explore options other than owning and operating your own charging infrastructure as a stopgap or long-term model. These include CaaS and TaaS. CaaS provides a contracted service to provide all your charging, either on your site or at a nearby shared location. TaaS adds the electric trucks to the CaaS offering. In addition, turnkey BEV infrastructure financing, design, installation, operations, and maintenance can be provided by specialized businesses.
- Other key considerations. There are a host of other things to consider when it comes to EV infrastructure as well as additional developments to be aware of.
- Grants, incentives, and subsidies are at an historic high, offering a window of opportunity for fleet electrification.
- If you do not own your facility, talk with your landlord early.
- Microgrids are emerging from the shadows.
- Reliability and interoperability of chargers must improve.
- Training a skilled workforce to support and service BEVs and charging hardware is critically important.
- Processes to improve electricity transmission/distribution infrastructure must be improved.
- BEV makers must increase miles per kilowatt, reduce vehicle costs and weight, and increase payload and reliability.