The transition to electric heavy-duty trucks is upon us, sparked by a steady decline in battery costs, continuous improvements in electric truck and charging technology, and growing recognition of the climate and local air quality impact of diesel trucks. But even as household names like FedEx, PepsiCo and Amazon have made public pledges to electrify their truck fleets, concerns that charging infrastructure will be able to meet fleets’ needs cost effectively threaten to slow the market-wide transition.

A study commissioned by EDF and conducted by Gladstein, Neandross and Associates addresses these charging questions and provides a pathway to ensuring heavy duty trucks can electrify.

Download the technical analysis conducted by Gladstein, Neandross and Associates.

Download EDF’s policy recommendations for reducing charging infrastructure costs.

In one of the most comprehensive analysis of real-world, Class 8 trip data to date, GNA evaluated a year’s worth of heavy-duty truck trips conducted by two national trucking companies — NFI and Schneider. Both companies have made significant efforts to start their transition to electric trucks. GNA modelled the impact of electrification on those fleets under a series of scenarios including managed charging and deployment of on-site solar and storage.

GNA found that not only are current and emerging electric truck models and charging systems capable of meeting most of the technical needs of the fleets studied, they offer operational and fuel savings over diesel alternatives. Despite those long-term savings, the infrastructure costs required to transition to electric trucks is significant, and the use of distributed energy resources like solar and energy storage, managed charging and incentives to bring down the upfront cost of charging systems will be critical to this transition.

Following GNA’s analysis, EDF developed four key policy recommendations which look beyond the cost of replacing vehicles and toward the up-front infrastructure costs and other considerations of electrifying heavy-duty truck fleets.

Managed charging can make or break the affordability of charging for fleets and reduce grid needs.
Managed charging allows fleets to use real-time utility data like grid load or electricity cost to optimize charging schedules, lower the cost of charging, reduce stress on the grid and reduce emissions. In some of the cases GNA evaluated, managed charging resulted in annual savings of upwards of $130,000. Not only will managed charging be necessary to improve the economics of electrifying Class 8 truck fleets, GNA’s analysis suggests that optimized managed charging programs could be much more powerful than they are today.

Combined with managed charging strategies, clean on-site distributed energy resources reduce costs for fleets and can improve overall grid conditions.

Distributed energy resources are a perfect solution to reducing charging costs for heavy-duty fleets, which are often burdened with short but high energy demand events that significantly increase their impact on the grid and energy bills. GNA examined two types of clean DERs: on-site solar panels and on-site energy storage, or batteries. When added to GNA’s managed charging scenarios, DERs produced additional annual electric savings of $625,000 (Schneider) and $835,000 (NFI). Moreover, managed charging and DERs reduced annual on-peak load by 611 kW for the Schneider fleet and 4 MW for the NFI fleet. This would not only reduce costs for the truck companies, but the utility, as well. If scaled to all trucks in a utility’s territory, these load reductions could drastically decrease the amount of grid upgrades needed to accommodate electric fleets. Further if leveraged for resiliency, DERs also offer the possibility for fleets to have power security in moments when the grid power is down.

 

Policies, programs or market-based tools that reduce the up-front infrastructure costs are necessary.

Though lower operational and fuel costs, managed charging and on-site DERs can significantly reduce the long-term cost of electrifying truck fleets, these savings alone are currently insufficient to fully mitigate the up-front costs fleet owners would have to absorb to electrify at current vehicle prices. The California fleets examined, for example, would be unable to transition cost-effectively without revenue generated by the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

There other are state and federal programs and grants that help reduce the up-front cost of replacing vehicles. But GNA’s analysis makes clear that transitioning to electric fleets is more complicated and costly than simply replacing vehicles and installing chargers. It can involve significant construction and utility improvements that must be completed before the first charger is installed. Existing state and federal efforts should be re-examined and expanded to more directly consider these up-front infrastructure costs.

Modern battery and charging technology can meet most fleet needs, but additional research and development spending can improve battery performance and optimize en route charging infrastructure design.

GNA found that existing or announced electric models and charging equipment could meet the technical needs of 93% of NFI’s trips and 88% of Schneider’s trips without any route modification or en route charging. Most of the trips that were unable to be completed with depot charging alone could have been with less than an hour of en route charging or with larger or more efficient batteries. Shared charging opportunities at common stops for these fleets, such as ports, should be explored.

Further, despite significant recent advancements in battery technology, better batteries would significantly improve electric truck performance and capabilities. For example, improving battery density (the amount of energy a battery can hold per pound of battery weight), would increase a fleet’s range. Improving the speed at which batteries can accept a charge would reduce charging time and make en route charging more feasible for heavy-duty electric trucks.

We know that America’s truck fleets can go electric. But to quickly capture the air quality and climate benefits this change will bring, we need it to happen soon. GNA’s analysis makes clear that getting charging right — specifically the cost of charging infrastructure — will be a linchpin of a quick and cost-effective transition. And EDF’s recommendations provide policymakers and regulators a roadmap to get there.


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