What’s going on in the world of electric trucks and electric truck charging? In this episode of CleanTech Talk, Steve Bloch, VP, Western Region, ABB E-Mobility Inc., and Kendell Whitehead, Western Region Lead, Heavy Vehicle Solutions, ABB E-Mobility Inc., sat down with CleanTechnica CEO Zach Shahan to share their insights on these markets.
Electric Truck Market Rising
To start off, Bloch shares that, “In the medium/heavy-duty truck space, it is a little bit behind the transit bus space in the sense that most of the vehicles that have been deployed so far are still relatively early beta pilots. Many of these companies have started to go into production for their vehicles, but it has really just started.” Some of the big players — like Daimler, Volvo (see here, here, and here), and PACCAR — have just launched their first production trucks in the past year or so or will do so next year.
“But we’re seeing huge growth, especially in California. This space is really focused on short haul. So, point to point; not going all the way from California to the East Coast. It’s possible that will happen, but it’s possible hydrogen will be the way to go much longer haul.”
Bloch also mentions that there are some more niche, smaller players — like Lightning eMotors, for example — that have been in this space for years, and continue to diversify their offerings, move up in vehicle class, and get more competitive.
“In general, this market is just taking off. We’re really in the first inning. It’s very exciting. And the growth’s only going to grow huge from here.”
Based on that comment, I asked if he thought it was comparable to when the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt first came to market in the electric car world. He responded that it was more like the BMW ActiveE pilot phase (before the LEAF and Volt arrived).
Bloch brought up the HVIP funding program in California for hybrid and zero-emission projects (HVIP). “In the past, the funds would take weeks or months before they were allocated, and I believe the last batch was done in 15 minutes. So, there’s just a lot of companies now that are embracing it, and that want to deploy a certain number of electric vehicles in their fleet and see how that’s going to work. And of course, especially in California, a lot of the utilities — PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E — have huge programs to help with offsetting some of the infrastructure costs with installing charging stations.”
The Electric Vehicle Case for Fleets
I’m always keen to talk about electric-car total cost of ownership versus gasoline-car total cost of ownership, but the potential for savings is especially large in the truck world and for fleets. Noting that total cost of ownership gets examined much more closely for fleets, I asked Bloch and Whitehead for their thoughts and experience on the economics of electric vehicles for fleets.
Naturally, they agreed that maintenance and fuel costs can be much lower for electric trucks, and Whitehead in particular had interesting comments on the on-the-ground story of those simpler, cheaper, cleaner systems and how they change work at the truck yard. They also talk about specific opportunities and benefits in California and Washington.
Charging Electric Trucks
Bloch noted that we could have an entire podcast focused on how to choose the right charging station for electric trucks, but he simplified it for this call. Key considerations include: how many vehicles you’re buying, how many miles they are going to drive in a day, how much time you have available during the day or at night for charging. “From that, you can determine what power level of charging stations you need, and how many you need,” he stated.
“So, once you take a look at that, then you have to understand from your utility side what are the tariffs? Do you have demand charges, like you mentioned? A lot of people aren’t familiar with commercial utility rates.” He then explained those a bit, including the difference between charging customers based on power versus energy usage. He also talked about the use of software to optimize charge times and charge rates.
We also talked about electric truck charging standards, superfast charging of 700V and 800V batteries, “megawatt charging,” interoperability, OCPP, and much more. Listen to the podcast to get into the details of all that.
Electric Truck Charging Challenges
Getting into the difficult and dirty stuff, I asked the ABB duo about current challenges in the electric truck market. Aside from limited supply, they talked about power availability. “One of the biggest challenges I think that we’re seeing or going to continue to see when we’re moving fleets to scale is power availability and utilities working with their customers, trying to make sure that there’s power availability at the site,” Whitehead said, “and if there’s not, how are you going to manage that from a demand charge perspective, how are you going to manage that from just a managed charging perspective? If you’ve got ten 150 kW chargers on a site but you’ve only got a megawatt of power availability, you obviously can’t use your full capacity of charging power because you don’t have grid power to back it up.”
One key tip — the #1 tip — Bloch offered was: “Just have your conversation with your utilities early. That should be the first place you go. And start planning — when you’re planning your site — plan it by talking with your utilities.” Another key is to make sure you have WiFi connectivity at the site.
Other Large Electric Vehicles Popping onto the Scene
It seems that wherever there’s electrification, there’s ABB, so I asked these engineers on the forefront of large-EV charging what other large electric vehicles had their attention. Bloch talked about the burgeoning electric aircraft industry, as well as electric aviation support vehicles at airports. Whitehead discussed electric marine vehicles, such as electric Maid of the Mist ferries (which ABB built) and electric tugboats. He also mentioned an ABB partnership with Taiga for electric snowmobiles!
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