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LARGE LOADS: Electric Semi’s & Their Charging Systems

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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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This item is part of the Electrification of Transportation - August 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

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NACFE has been blessed to do a lot of listening as well as some presenting at our first two utility conferences, DistribuTECH and EPRI Electrification 2022. One small piece of evidence that electrification is starting up is that each of the utility conferences had a very large truck fleet in attendance.

The study of medium and heavy-duty commercial truck electrification started in 2017 as NACFE explored different segments of the industry. In the following two and a half years, NACFE published six guidance reports to assist in understanding the changes at hand. These reports cover market segments, charging system infrastructure and the areas in North America where incentives, terrains and environmental quality challenges will drive initial uses.

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Every two years NACFE conducts a demonstration of the best equipment and operations in the commercial trucking space. In September of 2021, Run on Less – Electric went into action with battery electric trucks manufactured by 13 different companies.  Each of these vehicles was utilized by a fleet to do their normal deliveries. These trucks were located all across the US and Canada, with six being located in California. Their daily operations were monitored with telematics so that their state of charge, mileage, regenerative braking levels and more could be shared to the Run on Less website. Each of the fleets and OEMs were interviewed and the feedback from the drivers to the designers was shared via videos on the website as well. To further aid in sharing the knowledge behind the electrification transition, a ten session EV truck boot camp with dozens of different EV experts was hosted by NACFE and RMI.

Following the demonstration, the NACFE team analyzed what had been experienced and wrote case studies in the use of battery electric trucks in four application segments: vans and step-vans, terminal tractors, medium-duty box trucks and regional haul tractor-trailers. There is also a report on the overall demonstration. There are many other truck applications such as vocational trucks, expeditors and long-haul tractor-trailers that will take longer to develop, validate and come to the market.

An analogy was shared during the NACFE presentations that seemed to ring loud and clear with both audiences: we are currently at the awkward “junior high school dance” stage. The utilities are on one side of the gym and the truck fleets are on the other side. Neither one recognizes very many of the participants on the other side. Both sides know that a long-term relationship could be beneficial but neither side is very confident in starting the conversation. Worse yet, both groups use terms such as “transmission” and “loads”, that connotate very different images between the two groups. As proof that the analogy wasn’t too far off, one of the fleets reported that very few of the utilities asked them questions despite the fact that the fleet has made a pledge to full electrification and has locations in every major city.

ACT Research, a truck industry forecasting consulting company, has estimated that battery electric trucks will grow to have 26% of the market by 2030. Both industries need to take dancing lessons or spend far more time at each other’s conferences if we are to work together closely in a beautiful choreographed fashion that our mutual customers are expecting.

Questions from the audience were numerous and included timing and hydrogen amongst other issues. A fleet can order and obtain a battery electric truck in as little as six months. Although there is a chip shortage and other supply constraints that are limiting diesel truck production, some EV models still have short order to delivery times. This may especially be true of the numerous new truck manufacturers including Lion, Orange EV, Lonestar, Xos, Nikola and others.  Hydrogen fuel cell powered trucks are essentially an “extended range electric truck” and are currently in development by several manufacturers. Some of these fuel cell trucks are now undergoing validation testing in the real world.  The production of hydrogen will also consume massive amounts of electricity.

When asked; ”How a utility company can start meeting truck fleets?”, NACFE answers that the easiest way is to join your state’s trucking association. They are focused only on your area and are fleets and suppliers that operate in your area. One of the utilities present at DistribuTECH shared with Dave Schaller that they had emailed back to headquarters and requested they join their state trucking association immediately. That is the kind of first step that will grow relationships for years to come.

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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Aug 26, 2022

Yes the charging loads from millions of trucks on the road will be big. Utilities I talk with already have problems covering the DC Fast Charging loads at large car charging sites like Tesla Super Chargers and Electrify America charging locations. The demand charge help so the charging sites add large Battery storage on each site. We need this same kind of design for the new large truck ports that will be forming. Wind and Solar on these sites can also help but the Mega Battery Strorage is key. 

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