National Connections, Local Ownership
National Connections, Local Ownership

The Road to Electrification Runs Through Utilities

Over the past year and a half, I’ve written a number of blogs on electric trucks and how the industry needs to be prepared for this technology. I’ve covered the why fleets need to get ready for a transition, the impact on the power grid, the potential for recruiting young technicians, and more.

There’s no debate that the future is electric…think about nearly every automobile ad you see on TV these days. They all tout their current or upcoming electric models. But when it comes to fleets, the situation has one overwhelming issue; the ability to keep their trucks fully charged, especially when you consider a future of Class 8 electric trucks.

Here’s the issue: car owners can charge their vehicles in a wide variety of locations, including their own garages. For lighter and medium-duty trucks, an article in Freight Waves notes, “Many class 3-6 medium-duty trucks used for pickup and delivery, or that cover a specific route and return to base for overnight charging, can get by with Level 2 charging.”

But a recent article in FleetOwner exposes one of the major problems fleets of heavy-duty and over-the-road trucks will face. No matter the good intentions of OEMs and fleet managers, these assets will have to rely on utility companies to provide the infrastructure and ample power to keep their vehicles running. The power required to power a fleet of Class 8 trucks is substantial. According to the article, as an example, “50 Class 8 trucks require 9 megawatts of charging capacity – about the same as the Empire State Building.

The article quotes Charlie Allcock, formerly with the public utility, Portland General Electric who comments on the additional problem, “There’s 3,000 utilities in the US and they’re all different.” In fact, he notes that most utility employees, including management, don’t even know who their counterparts are in neighboring utilities, let alone those across state lines.

Plus, Allcock points to how long it takes for utility companies, whether they’re public, private, or co-op to actually get things done. Large projects that require land acquisition, licensing, and permitting can take up to a decade to complete. If you’re trying to comply with state or federal goals for electrification, this timeframe makes compliance nearly impossible.

So, what can be done? Obviously, there is a need for OEMs, fleets, and utilities to work together. An article in Utility Dive addresses this issue, “An essential step electric utilities can take to address demand is to review and proactively streamline processes that support EV charging infrastructure where feasible. When developing and installing charging infrastructure, utilities should work with fleets to ensure sufficient capacity is available at the depot to handle this new load. California is ahead of the curve on this, as one would expect, since that state has been the most aggressive when it comes to electrification. But most states aren’t California.

Active outreach will be necessary for every utility throughout the country and that’s a big ask…but a necessary one. The Utility Dive article notes that educating fleet operators and helping them prepare for the transition requires collaboration between all the stakeholders (utilities, OEMs, agencies/regulators, and trade associations) to make this transition possible.

Fleets will have their job to do as well. Utilities don’t have a crystal ball to predict how much energy and infrastructure is needed. They will need information from fleets on how many EV medium- and heavy-duty vehicles they have as well as “localized information on when and where vehicles will be charging and at what levels.”

What’s clear is that this could likely be a much longer-term issue that many would have hoped for. Electrification of fleets is still our future…but maybe a bit further into the future than many would like.

Read my IdeaXchange blog EV expansion and the impact on electricity costs.



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