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What Utilities Need To Know About The Electrification Of Commercial Trucks

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David Schaller's picture
Industry Engagement Director North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE)

Electric/hybrid MD & HD commercial trucks are just entering the marketplace. With over 3 decades of experience introducing new technologies to the trucking industry, it is a pleasure to be...

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  • Jan 25, 2022
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-01 - Power Industry 2022 Trends & Predictions, click here for more

As someone who has held a role in strategic product planning, it is always exciting to be part of forecasting trends and making predictions. My role at the time was forecasting the changes in trucking including legislative and regulatory revisions, technology changes and the societal impacts of these changes. So why, you ask me, is a trucking person making predictions in an energy forum. My forecast is that the growth of battery electric commercial vehicles is going to make grid use forecasting extremely difficult for utility companies.

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Participating in Department of Energy’s Advanced Grid webinars has been enlightening. It is impressive to see how utility companies make forecasts. Monitoring loads on the grid over the past one, five and 10 years can show growth trends in a selected area. Tabulating residential and commercial construction as well as building permits shows the additional loads to be added to the grid in the coming years. Tracking birth rates, school enrollments and demographic changes provides insight into the overall population trends. The strategic planning is fairly sophisticated. Battery electric car purchases are another new factor for some utilities to consider when making their forecasts. Computer analysis of all these factors is continually improving. And now the commercial trucking industry is quite probably going to throw a wrench into all of this sophistication. Truck fleets do not tend to talk to a utility company about their future plans unless they happen to be in the cold storage business and have a lot of refrigeration loads to manage. Truck fleet facility loads are generally small, as they just need lights in the warehouse or distribution center. Most truck fleets and their facilities probably don’t have a utility company account manager to interface with at this point in time. That all needs to change, and the sooner the better.

While some of the smaller commercial electric trucks will have small loads similar to battery electric passenger cars, however others that are entering the market have greater than a megawatt charging systems for a single truck. Hopefully for everyone’s sake, fleets start out with one truck as a field test so utility companies can respond appropriately. It will become even more challenging if that field test goes extremely well and the next year the truck fleet buys 10, or 20, or even more of the electric trucks.  Unlike most electric passenger cars, not every electric truck will have 10 to 12 hours per night to charge. Some trucks work multiple shifts per day and will have short recharging periods with high energy loads. Shuttle trucks (also known as terminal tractors, goats or yard dogs) on the lots of factories and distribution centers may be used all day and get charged during breaks, meals and shift changes. Some fleets will have the luxury of controlling charging times to minimize time of use charges, but others may not have that flexibility. The bottom line is that truck fleets may be adding groups of trucks in the future that could easily add 5 to 10 megawatt loads with their desired time frames of 6 to 12 months from truck order to delivery time. This does not provide utility companies the likely time they need to create plans, obtain permits and make necessary changes.

Determining which fleets will electrify first isn’t easy, but there are some sure bets. Many of the fleets that are household names in e-commerce and parcel delivery already have made public announcements of sizable purchases of battery electric trucks. Not all of their facilities will electrify at the same time, but make no mistake electrification of the commercial vehicle market is coming.

One last prediction: Some utilities are going to be very proactive and start learning about commercial truck fleets in their area. Some will join the state trucking associations in their area of operations to meet their future customers as soon as possible. Others will study the 13 different battery electric truck real-world case studies in the recent Run on Less – Electric demonstration and take part in the Electric Truck Bootcamp. And then there will be some utilities that simply won’t see the light since they haven’t turned that switch on yet.

About the Author: Dave Schaller is the Industry Engagement Director for the NACFE. His responsibilities include interfacing with fleets, OEMs and suppliers, writing reports, conducting workshops, giving presentations, and running the social media groups. Schaller works closely with the drivers and sponsors for the Run On Less demonstrations. He holds an Electrical Engineering degree from the Purdue University and an MBA from Ball State University. As a Navistar employee for 27 years, he held positions in production design, research, program management, dealer sales training, marketing, product line management, and strategic product planning. A marketing role allowed Schaller to spend many days in truck stops, fleet offices and dealerships in five countries learning about what the industry desired and why. Schaller holds five US patents, has written several SAE papers and several NACFE publications.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 25, 2022

One last prediction: Some utilities are going to be very proactive and start learning about commercial truck fleets in their area. 

Trucking is obviously critical to every corner of the country, but in the short-term will there be major hubs of trucking that lean into this transition the most and can have the greatest influence on the industry by doing so? 

David Schaller's picture
David Schaller on Feb 22, 2022

Matt, that is a great question. NACFE is analyzing the data we accumulated during the Run on Less - Electric demonstration.  We have already published one overall report: Run on Less – Electric Report - North American Council for Freight Efficiency (nacfe.org). We are now writing reports on 4 different subsections we see as having the opportunity to lead the transition:

  1. Terminal Tractors (shuttle trailers around at warehouses, ports & distribution centers)
  2. Vans & Step Vans (think e-commerce delivery and more)
  3. MD Box trucks (a lot of business-to-business delivery of goods)
  4. Regional Haul Tractor-Trailers

Hopefully this is exactly what you are seeking, but if not, feel free to reach out to me. We can connect on LinkedIn or you can write to me at David.Schaller@NACFE.org. All of the reports that NACFE publishes are free of charge thanks to our sponsors. Please utilize them to your benefit. NACFE is very open to talking with people in the utility, power and distribution industry. It will take a large amount of collaboration to make this transition beneficial for all involved.

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