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Should You Consider Electrifying Your Trucking Fleet?

Should You Consider Electrifying Your Trucking Fleet?

Some fleets have been considering electrification, but is it right for you? There are definitely considerations to be made, but with proper planning, it can be done. Still, adding electric vehicles to your fleet isn’t as simple as it seems. You can’t always pull into a truck stop and charge your EV. Though that may be changing sooner rather than letter, it simply is not a current reality.

The industry is, however, making big strides to change that. Take Tesla as one example. Out for a casual day of testing, it was reported that the rig was exceeding expectations hauling a 75,000 lb. load in Arizona. Yet, testing an electrified big rig is still a long ways from seeing them en masse on the nation’s roads and highways.

A Benchmark is Set

Tesla has made big strides and that cannot be denied. The production vehicle is slated to have 300 to 500 miles of range, yet there are already signs that the true range could be closer to 600 miles. Even the CHP testing station got in on the fun, releasing a statement to the effect that they looked forward to seeing more electric trucks on the road.

Even more, Tesla owns this market. Much like their rivals in the automotive sector have been unable to adequately keep up, Elon Musk’s innovative company largely owns the electric semi space as well. And although there have been skeptics, it appears the numbers are real. While efficiency is far higher in electric rigs than in gasoline-powered rigs, it really depends on where the power is coming from.

If energy is coming from a gas- or coal-fired power plant, then the energy efficiency takes a big drop. In places where most power comes from renewable sources, these vehicles would be more ecologically logical, if you will. If the semi were to charge at a 1-megawatt fast-charging station, it could consume as much energy as 2,500 households.

Despite these potential drawbacks, industry advocates and fleets are excited about the potential for new, electrified technologies. OEMs are placing big bets on their adoption and helping fleets get set up. Speaking of getting set up, what is a fleet to do if they decide to pursue electrification? Let’s take a closer look.

The Utility Connection

Whether you want to move to a hybrid or fully electrified fleet, you can manage a smooth transition. There are plenty of resources available to fleets looking to move into an electric direction. You may want to start with your local utility. They will have experience working with companies and organizations such as yourself on their electrification efforts.

Depending on how peak electricity is used, rates can fluctuate anywhere from 50% – 200% in a given day. If you needed to plan for fuel use in the same way, you would need to build in for high levels of price volatility. There are 3,300 utility companies in the United States, each of which have their own pricing structures, use charges, and peak demand rates.

If you are a trucking company operating intrastate, you need to pay close attention to the rules and regulations you will have to operate under. You must work with your local utility on electric charging infrastructure, rates, and so much more. You may also be eligible for local funding opportunities. Whether it be for substation or transformer installation or simple vehicle offset credits, these benefits make the move to electrification a lot easier.

Also consider the consulting fees you may be subject to should you decide to hire someone from the outside. Instead, you can use the utility company that governs your jurisdiction as an inexpensive consultant. Since each use case is unique, fleets need to work with their partners and utility company staff on a tandem basis.

Why Planning is so Important

You need to know what questions to ask. What are your operational needs? Does electrification fit into those needs? Do you know exactly how many EVs you want to add to your fleet? Will they all need to be charged at the end of the day and do you have the infrastructure to support fleetwide charging? If you are dealing with multiple charge scenarios, you may need expert help.

Your electrical provider or even a specialty contractor or construction consultant can help you model the type of infrastructure investments you’ll need to make it work. Retrofitting your facility is no small task and you don’t want to make that kind of investment in a vacuum. Will you need to make any major electrical upgrades? What kind of impact will this have on your bottom line?

Furthermore, EV charging infrastructure is an evolving beast. You will have to be involved in complex planning and implementation processes. Utility companies are also subject to government rules and regulations. You may be looking at a year or more for the permitting process. How long do you have to stretch the process out? Ideally, you need to start the process long before you ever take possession of your first electric vehicle or finish your retrofit.

Consider the following:

  • Infrastructure planning
  • Negotiation
  • Funding
  • Permitting
  • Installation
  • Certification

Have you considered your energy management needs? Many fleets overlook this factor. You need to ensure you are aware of demand charges, depending on when you charge the fleet. The last thing you want is to get surprised by big charges because you aren’t properly managing your charge time across the fleet.

Planning also goes beyond charge time. If your fleet is electrified, how are you handling load management? Once you have addressed these factors and answered the appropriate questions, it is time to begin constructing your infrastructure and installing your charging equipment.

Top Reasons to Electrify

Sure, you may be reading this and thinking this process sounds incredibly onerous but don’t worry. Although electric vehicles are different from diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles, with careful planning and execution, there is no reason why you can’t electrify your fleet. The fact is, the technology is already all around us on the road.

Newly released school and transit bus models are already rolling off the line fully electric-ready. The same goes for refuse, drayage, and last-mile delivery vehicles. These types of duty cycles are most suited for electric vehicles. And with the huge amounts of data collected on how these vehicles operate, the technology is only becoming more refined over time.

Whether it be lower fuel expenses, less road noise, better route optimization, or otherwise, fleets across the nation are discovering the benefits of electrification. And to think, electric vehicles were once considered the cutting edge of trucking technology. Now, with autonomous trucking and advanced safety features and add-ons, electric trucks seem almost quaint.

Fortunately, under-the-hood technologies have rapidly changed to accommodate the needs of electric OEMs. Allison Transmission, as one example, has been making electric-hybrid transmissions for city buses since way back in 2003. They are also developing integrated transmissions that work in concert with electric motors. Advanced transmissions of this nature multiply the available torque, which creates more energy efficiency.

E-axles are also now a thing. Medium- and heavy-duty trucks can now be spec’d with a fully electric powertrain system that can fit within a standard frame. Whether it be using dual electric motors or a multi-speed gear box, the systems needed to ensure proper electrification can easily fit within the same confines that combustion equipment sits.

In addition to enhanced powertrain electric technology, battery technology has also grown by leaps and bounds. This allows for increased range, reduced weight, and compact integration. While medium-duty commercial batteries may not be required for every possible use or application, if a fleet operates urban delivery or last-mile commercial motor vehicles running 100 miles or less per day, electrification becomes a viable and potentially cost-saving alternative.

Big Moves Towards Sustainability

If there is one imperative driving adoption of electric technologies, it is the move towards sustainability at both the municipal and corporate level. Several European cities are already operating with zero-emission zones in city centers. As new regulations take effect in the United States, now is the time to begin planning for the transition.

Yet companies are getting in on the action as well. Target, as one example, recently announced sustainability goals that aims for a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. They are also requiring that at least 80% of their suppliers meet their green goals by 2023.

These changes mean that fleets who are already on the alternative fuels’ bandwagon will be well positioned and a step ahead of their competitors. Of course, fleet electrification is not appropriate for every transportation company, but for those that do fit the bill, it can be a beneficial and cost-saving alternative to more traditional power sources.

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