Charging Corridors Could Boost Uptake of EV Trucking

The use of electrified vehicles for medium- and heavy-duty trucking brings a host of challenges, from size and weight of the batteries to the density of infrastructure required for charging, as well as the need for cost/benefit analyses.

Volvo Trucks North America is looking to build out that infrastructure in California with a string of charging stations stretching from Dixon, California north of San Francisco to La Mirada in Los Angeles County. The company is partnering with Shell Recharge Solutions, TEC Equipment, Affinity Truck Center and Western Truck Center to develop the publicly accessible EV charging network, which is backed by a $2M grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC).

The project, which will deploy high-powered chargers at several existing Volvo Trucks’ dealership locations in Central and Northern California, starts this year with five stations, in addition to two existing stations, and is scheduled to come online by the end of 2023. Volvo Group North America’s Keith Brandis, vice-president of system solutions and partnerships, says he talked to a lot of their customers who told them they would love to start this journey on electric trucks but they weren’t ready to make the investment in the charging infrastructure themselves. “It makes sense for us to use our dealer footprint in California, and to apply for this grant through the California Energy Commission to create this Volvo electrified charging corridor,” he says.

Brandis explains many of the company’s customers that have their fleet trucks running throughout the state were limited by the range, meaning within an initial base of operations, they were forced to go back to their depot. “For this to be a success, we knew that we had to provide intervals that would meet not only the evolving technology of our trucks, but also stitch together these communities where we saw a lot of freight density,” he says.

This led Volvo to look at their dealer footprint, where they knew they already had a great deal of trucking activity in those areas. “It made sense for not only our customer base but also new prospective customers that are buying heavy duty trucks in the future,” he says. “We’re able to leverage the sites that we already have real estate and where we already train technicians. They take the next step to make sure that we have public charging available on the dealership site.”

To get the large batteries juiced up with minimal downtime, Brandis says Volvo is promoting fast DC charging, and points out the market is going to continue to make stepwise improvements in the charging hardware, as well as the battery technology. “In this market, customers want to have roughly an 80% state of charge in 70 minutes,” he says. “We are also looking for ways to utilize the route and the driver’s time while the truck is standing still to take advantage of opportunity charge.”

With a 250kW charger, the company’s VNR Electric straight truck can be charged to 80% in 60 minutes in a 4-battery configuration, and in 90 minutes in a 6-battery configuration. He adds the company is seeing “tremendous levels” of investments coming from both venture capital side and private equity side as the technology for EV charging develops. “The biggest challenge is that you need to have enough chargers,” says Gartner analyst Pedro Pacheco. “The other thing is you can’t use the same chargers as you use for passenger cars, otherwise it will take an eternity to recharge the battery for a truck, even with it with a fast charger.

He says a megawatt charging system is going to be the game changer for EV truck charging, particularly long-haul trucks with massive batteries. “When you look at the megawatt charger, we’re looking at charging power starting at one megawatt or above, which means the charging speed for a large truck is something between 30 to 45 minutes,” he says. “This is a major breakthrough that will allow long haul heavy trucks to become more commercially viable because the problem is the operational constraints.”

He points out these trucks need to be on the move all the time, and therefore, if they if they stand for a long time charging, it doesn’t work from an operational and profitability standpoint. Following the pumped-up charging capabilities, Pacheco adds, you then need to have enough chargers along the main road corridors to cater to enough trucks. “The basic infrastructure needs to be in place in order to provide enough physical space for these trucks to charge so they aren’t backing up and causing a safety issue on the side of the road,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a simple thing but complex to execute.”

Brandis agrees, highlighting the complex process of working with the sites, planning to get the construction permits, ordering the electrical gear, working with the local utilities to see how much power we have available on the site. “This also limits how many dispensers we can put on a site,” he says. “We’re also working through the logistics of how a tractor trailer is going to enter the lot without blocking the rest of the traffic.” Volvo is taking what he calls a “stepwise approach”, admitting there are lots of details that they expect will influence the company’s thinking on how they plan the next phases of expansion.

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