Tesla Semi Customers Will Build Their Own Charging Stations

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Tesla has booked pre-orders for its all-electric Semi heavy duty trucks from at least 9 major corporations. Now, some of those companies are planning how they will charge those trucks once they arrive. In particular, Anheuser Busch and United Parcel Service say they are working closely with Tesla to design charging equipment that will be installed at their transportation hubs. CNBC, citing a report by Reuters, says the Tesla Semis will initially be used on routes that allow them to be begin and end at company terminals rather than stopping to recharge along the way.

Tesla Semi

Getting Ready For Electric Trucks Takes Planning

James Sembrot, senior director of supply chain for Anheuser-Busch, says his company is considering installing chargers for the 40 Tesla trucks it has pre-ordered at its larger breweries and other key locations in its distribution network. “What was important to us was to make a big investment in this cutting edge technology and secure our place in line,” he says.

Scott Phillippi, global engineering director for UPS, tells CNBC his company is working closely with Tesla to plan for the charging infrastructure it will need to power up the 125 Tesla Semis it has pre-ordered. Loblaw, which operates one of the largest fleet of trucks in Canada, is planning to use solar energy to charge the electric trucks it has pre-ordered from Tesla. Catherine Thomas, a spokesperson for Loblaw, says her company is considering Tesla and “a few other companies” for the design and technology needed to make those solar chargers a reality.

Mike O’Connell, senior director of supply chain for Frito-Lay North America, says his company is talking to Tesla about how to design a charging network at its terminals. “We have a lot of in-house capability around energy and engineering … and certainly Tesla brings their expertise to the table on energy and charging.” PepsiCo, which is owned by Frito-Lay, has pre-ordered 100 Tesla Semis. In addition to working with Tesla, it may explore the possibility of sharing charging facilities and the cost of building them with other companies.

The companies have not disclosed any details about how much the charging stations will cost or how engineering and installation costs will be apportioned between them and Tesla, but a study by the California Air Resources Board puts the average price for the chargers used by public transportation companies who have added electric buses to their fleets is $249,000. But some transportation industry insiders warn the cost could exceed $1,000,000 depending on factors like the number of electric trucks that need to be recharged simultaneously, the source of the electricity, and what the existing energy infrastructure is like in a particular area.

Tesla Megachargers

Elon Musk has spoken publicly about creating a network of solar powered Megachargers located along major transportation routes to meet the needs of the electric trucks Tesla will build. He has “guaranteed” the cost of electricity at those facilities will not exceed 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is at or below the average cost of electricity in most parts of America. Solar power for commercial use costs 9-12 cents per kilowatt hour, or 6-8 cents with a federal subsidy, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

CNBC claims the customers and industry experts it has spoken with tell it that Tesla intends to buy cheap excess solar power from the energy grid, store it in Tesla Powerpack batteries, then resell it at a profit to truckers. That idea may not be as far fetched as it sounds. According to a report by  RenewEconomy, the large Tesla battery storage installation in South Australia earned Neoen, the French utility company that operates that facility, a profit of $800,000 in just two days by absorbing an oversupply of electricity on the local grid which it got cheaply and then selling it back to the grid later at a higher price.

Ian Wright, the Tesla co-founder who left the company when Musk came on board to concentrate on electric trucks, is skeptical. He thinks the cost of building those solar powered Megacharger facilities would be staggeringly high, with the cost of batteries needed to make them a reality being $15 million or more. Even if they could get excess electricity from solar power plants cheaply and sell it to truckers for more money, “I am not seeing any profit in energy brokering for Tesla,” he says.

A Lot To Chew On

Still, there will probably not be any Megachargers in operation when the first Tesla Semi rolls off the assembly line. Tesla is burning through cash at a tremendous rate as it struggles to get Model 3 production going. It is aggressively expanding the Supercharger network, proceeding with plans for the Model Y, working on the next generation Tesla Roadster, moving toward the first ever redesign of the Model S, and completing its Gigafactory in Nevada. That’s a lot to chew, even without Elon selling flamethrowers and hats to promote his Boring Company and building the biggest rocket available today.

Some potential Tesla Semi customers are taking a wait and see attitude. Derek Leathers, chief executive of Werner, one of America’s largest trucking firms, says he doubts Tesla’s ability to produce a viable electric truck in the time Elon says it will be done. “I think it’ll happen, I just think their timeline is extremely aggressive.” Aggressive timelines are nothing new for Musk and Tesla, however. Other major trucking companies like YRC Worldwide, Daseke, and Old Dominion Freight Line have not pre-ordered any Tesla Semis while they wait to see whether the promised recharge times, range predictions, pricing, and payload capabilities are realistic.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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