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How to start talking about electric truck charging infrastructure

Before you approach a utility partner to establish your own electric truck charging infrastructure, you have to know your power needs. How do you do that without running trucks?

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Step 1: Know what you’re talking about

Before you approach a utility partner to establish your own electric truck charging infrastructure, you have to know your power needs. How do you do that without running trucks? Let’s consider this use case:

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You’re a beverage distributer running five electric trucks on predictable 30-mile routes between Akron, Ohio, and Canton, Ohio. It’s 60 miles round trip from your base of operations and your distribution points. A round trip takes about 80 minutes, so you expect to get six deliveries in an eight-hour work day before you factor in charging time. (A basic, dumbed-down application approach, but the numbers are easy and I’m an editor and not a mathematician, so bear with me.)

Let’s say you’re running five Freightliner eM2 medium-duty trucks with batteries that provide 325 Kwh of usable capacity, a range of up to 230 miles and have the ability to charge up to 80% (providing a range of 184 miles) in about 60 minutes. (Keep in mind, this scenario would assume a charger is capable of delivering 270+ kW in the operating voltage range of the vehicle to hit the 60-minute mark, but more on charger selection in a minute.)

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Running six, 60-mile routes means the trucks will run a total of 360 miles in an eight-hour shift—well over the full-charge estimated range of 230. You don’t want to take those trucks down to zero charge because that’s bad for the batteries and doesn’t leave you any range cushion in case your calculation is off. 

So you want to take those trucks down to, at most, 15% charge and then recharge. You’ll sacrifice a run for 60 minutes of charge time that will buy you another 184 miles—now you’re only running five routes per day per truck. You can run 195 miles before your batteries are at 15% charge. 

So you’ll run three routes—180 miles—just to be safe, bringing your actual battery discharge down to about 22%. You’ll charge the trucks for an hour to bring them back up to 80% charge with approximately 184-mile range and then run your last two routes—120 miles round trip. At the end of the day, your trucks return at a state of charge around 28%. 

Quick napkin-math would indicate that you’d need, approximately:

• 945 Kw/h of energy for your during-the-day charging.
(Show your math: 189 Kw/h per truck x five trucks = 22% recharged to 80%)

• 1,170 Kwh of energy for an overnight charge.
(Show your math: 234 Kw/h per truck x five trucks = 28% charged to 100%)

Once you have your answers, it’s time to start making phone calls.

Step 2: Consider your charging equipment needs

Right now, heavy-duty charging infrastructure development is the wild west. Kilowatt charging speed and capacity options are all on the table, and charging plugs aren’t even standardized yet. When new questions begin to swirl and the reality of electric trucks seems out of reach, go back to your application needs when you reach out to charging equipment suppliers.

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“You don’t necessarily have to install high-powered charging systems. It’s really about how your fleet operates,” explained Andrew Cullen, senior vice president of fuels and facilities at Penske Truck Leasing. Cullen detailed Penske’s quest to install 14 high-speed chargers at four of its existing facilities in Southern California to support its electric truck pilot program running the aforementioned Freightliner eM2s. “We chose 150-kW chargers because we felt, first off, that they are the most tried and true, industry-proven equipment that is out there, and they give us the fastest charge so that we could be as flexible with our customers as possible.”

Flexibility is key as Penske plans to extend the use of its 50 kW to 150 kW chargers to power a forthcoming all-electric Class 8 tractor from zero to 100% charge in less than half a shift. Cullen was quick to point out that other charging solutions were viable, but that Penske aimed to minimize potential charging challenges for its lease customers. 

Charging equipment clearly warrants a conversation and serious consideration. Two good places to start researching charging equipment are the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), a worldwide industry alliance focused on promoting the Combined Charging System (CCS) as the global standard for charging electric vehicles of all types (charinev.org) and EV Connect (evconnect.com), the latter has launched a EV Charge Station (EVCS) Certification Program for electric vehicle (EV) charging station manufacturers.

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“All this technology is so new that it’s really important to work towards standardization, which is exactly why we joined the CharIN organization,” Cullen said, “We want to get to a point where every truck has the same type of plug.”

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Step 3: Bring the power to your people

It starts with talking to utility partners to get the power where you need it.

“We strategically located the charging equipment based on a number of factors. The first one was power availability at that particular location,” Cullen said, noting that Penske knew what trucks were heading its way and how they were going to be used, which allowed them to provide the utilities with clear-cut answers and power density and location needs. Location, however, can be trickier than you think.

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“In Southern California, space is at a premium for parking,” Cullen continued. “We had to find locations that had enough room without disrupting our customers’ operations too much in order to put in the charging infrastructure.”

Penske couldn’t have pulled off its charging infrastructure feat without the help of its utility partners, with whom they worked just as closely as they do truck OEMs.

“We started our discussions with the utilities very early because we wanted to understand what their challenges might be and, frankly, what the capital investments and the timing would look like,” Cullen said. “We need to know if we’d have to do things like, you know, maybe run additional lines to our facility to enable the charging. In those early discussions the utilities were all very receptive to our needs. They are very, very interested in transportation electrification; a lot of them are making a lot of investments in different types of programs to facilitate and make it easier for fleets to electrify. Once again, it’s one of those things where they have skin in the game, and they’re willing to step up. That’s what our experience was.”

You likely want to have the discussion with utilities and charging equipment providers before you invest in rolling hardware to work through your specific potential power constraints within the grid, where and when it might have additional capacity and so forth. 

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“We had the requisite power available at our facility,” Cullen said, explaining Penske’s charging use case. “We needed the utilities’ assistance to put in the requisite transformer size. And we wanted to have the charging equipment separately metered, so we had to install meters to their specification. They did some additional electrical work for us at the facility that a utility would typically do. It was a lot of coordination with them in order to get these stations up and running in what I think is a relatively short period of time, when you consider that everything is all so brand-new, particularly in the commercial heavy-duty electric vehicle space.”

Step 4: Keep the conversation going

Like any investment, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your electric charging infrastructure and capture performance metrics to make sure it’s paying off. 

Cullen said it best:

“With anything new in transportation, obviously, our customers aren’t generating revenue unless their trucks are moving, and so the reliability of both the vehicles and the charging system is big. We’ve taken what we think are the right steps to ensure that we’re monitoring the charging equipment appropriately and that we’re monitoring the vehicles appropriately, including the telematics.”

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The 14 stations are just the beginning for Penske, which is planning to expand that number to 20 charging stations. 

“We’ve had a great experience so far with the infrastructure and the lessons that everybody has taken away from this,” Cullen said. “We’re going to be in a much better position to help our customers, as well as the other fleet operators and owners and OEMs out there to further this along.”

Check out the rest of the July digital edition of Fleet Equipment here.

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