NACFE: small depots are ready to scale electrification

NACFE: small depots are ready to scale electrification

Dipping your toes into electrification is one thing, leaping into running 15+ BEVs is another. Though NACFE says for many, the time is right.

When it comes to fleet electrification, The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) said the process for many ends up being like a high school dance–trucking companies sitting on one side, utilities across the room, and no one’s talking to each other. There’s a need to change that, and data from the newest report from NACFE and RMI analyzed performance data from 22 production-level battery electric vehicles (BEVs), to show that companies may not need as much power as they anticipate.

The vehicles represented include Class 2 (vans, step vans) through Class 8 (regional-, long-haul trucks) from 11 manufacturers, and were operated out of 10 fleet depots that participated in Run on Less–Electric DEPOT. Each fleet that participated in the study operates 15 or more BEVs, outfitted with Geotab telematics devices to collect data, which was then analyzed by researchers.

NACFE-DEPOT-Map
For Run on Less – Electric DEPOT, NACFE tracked data from 10 fleet depots in the U.S. and Canada, operating 15 or more BEVs.

NACFE tells us data analysis confirmed findings released shortly after the demonstration in September 2023.

Those findings were:

  • Small depots are ready for electrification now;
  • Electrification at large depots is gaining momentum;
  • There have been big technology and production improvements since Run on Less – Electric in 2021;
  • The trucking industry needs cost and weight reductions to improve TCO;
  • Range can be extended with multiple charging events during a shift or en route;
  • BEVs are empowering diversity and inclusion, and energizing initiative and passion; and
  • Powering up infrastructure is taking too long, but portable/temporary charging is helping.

“[The Run showed] that this technology is available. It’s not 10 years in the future. It’s operating now in a city around us and it is possible for other businesses and other fleets to adopt,” said Joy Gardner, executive director, Empire Clean Cities.

NACFE notes that contrary to the idea that BEVs need to have a massive battery and must be charged quickly, the data showed that most vehicles were returning with over 50% state of charge (SOC). The organization adds that many drivers are partially recharging during stops or while eating lunch and that many companies operate BEVs on a daily basis, leaving the vehicle to charge for 10 to 12 hours overnight.

NACFE-Box-Plot-SOC-state-of-charge
State of charge (SOC) data for different vehicle makes NACFE tracked throughout the Run on Less – Electric DEPOT program.

“There are huge ramifications to misinformation about charging and using the ‘worst-case’ scenario for planning infrastructure or adding a massive battery to trucks,” said Rick Mihelic, NACFE’s director of emerging technologies and lead author of the report. “The idea of only using long-haul vehicles at a horrendously high rate of charging is an assumption. In the real world, there’s not as much of a need for that. There are many trucks that don’t need to travel that far or charge that fast.”

Mihelic said when talking about electrification at scale, we need to pay attention to all fleet vehicles, not just the 10% of Class 8 long-haul trucks at one end of the spectrum.

Integrating fleets with utilities

If fleet managers are not supposed to defer to the worst-case scenario when planning electrification, what should they do make sure they have enough power? Mihelic said fleets need to get meaningful first-hand experience and get involved with utilities at the beginning of the BEV conversation.

“As a fleet, you need to bring in some trucks first to get an idea of what you will use and what will work for your operation. You can arrange for temporary charging services to test how many trucks you’ll charge, how often they’ll be charged and how many chargers you’ll need, before installing permanent infrastructure,” Mihelic explained. “You need to involve your utilities on day-one when discussing electrification. Electric trucks may only take three to six months to get after you place an order, arranging for utilities can take six month to a year or longer.” On the other side of the coin, NACFE said utilities need to give fleets realistic timelines for project completion.

Mihelic adds it is critical to understand your own vehicle needs before going to the utilities and advises getting accurate data on what your diesels are doing, day-to-day.

In addition to validating the initial findings, the post-run analyses came to these additional findings, according to NACFE:

  1. Electric vans, trucks and heavy-duty tractors are on the road today and are performing well in many duty cycles. Despite challenges, many fleets are deploying BEVs at scale in their operations. This list includes not only the 10 fleets that participated in Run on Less–Electric DEPOT but also companies like Amazon, NFI and IKEA.
  2. Infrastructure at the depots and along freight corridors, is needed now. One stumbling block to depot electrification is the need for a wider charging network. Fleets can help with this by working in partnerships where two or more companies combine charging use to maximize charger asset utilization. The US National Blueprint For Transportation Decarbonization and the National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy outline a vision for the vehicle technologies and infrastructure required to transform commercial freight transportation from fossil fuels to zero-emission energy sources.
  3. Heavy-duty tractor OEMs should make cost and weight improvements a priority. It is still difficult for many fleets to make the TCO case for BEVs based solely on hard costs, but factoring in things like driver satisfaction and achieving sustainability goals can result in a better TCO case. In addition, more information is needed on the cost of trucks, chargers, energy, infrastructure installation, etc. Vehicle weight has a direct impact on how much payload can be carried. Even with the 2,000-lb. weight exemption for Class 8 vehicles, battery weight impacts both payload and range. Though even with diesel-powered trucks, not every load reaches maximum gross vehicle weight. The more exact the understanding of freight weights, the better the electricity needs for BEVs can be estimated. This will help fleets better match BEVs to duty cycles. In the meantime, OEMs need to continue to refine batteries with weight reduction as a key goal.
  4. Realistic data on all key performance metrics is needed. There is a need for better quality performance data on BEV operations—not measured solely on the vehicle, but also measured at the charger, at the depot and from a utility perspective. Information needs to be realistic, as many scenarios do not accurately represent the reality of the current state of BEV development. Additionally, it takes joint efforts from a variety of sources to electrify a depot and all participants require their own type of data for different reasons.

“These additional findings are things that everyone involved in the effort to decarbonize freight movement can be working on,” Mihelic concludes. “We have built up quite a bit of data which demonstrates that BEVs are working in a wide variety of transportation applications, but we are aware that there are still issues that need to be addressed. Collaboratively and collectively, we can address the changes and improve the TCO case for BEVs for more fleets.”

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