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Although manufacturers of electric semi-trucks are largely ready to ramp up production, the lagging charging infrastructure needed to keep them running has them downshifting to first gear.

For example, take Daimler Truck North America.

In a January FreightWaves article, writer Alan Adler said the company planned to build 2,000 Class 8 battery-electric trucks in 2022, but sales dropped when buyers realized there wasn’t the infrastructure needed to charge them.

“We had in our mind the market demand was going to be X based on discussions with customers,” the company’s CEO John O’Leary reportedly told the media at the Manifest supply chain conference. “We installed the capacity and then, all of a sudden, [it was] ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I know I told you I wanted 200 in 2023. How about if I take 25 and push the rest out?’”

“So, even early adopters like Schneider, UPS and Sysco Inc. — which in May placed an order for up to 800 eCascadias through 2026 — ended up with just a handful of second-generation trucks capable of a typical single-charge range of 230 miles,” Adler wrote.

The big-rig charging conundrum

Although new government initiatives aim to increase the country’s EV charging infrastructure, the funding allocated for these efforts isn’t necessarily geared toward juicing up big rigs — which have vastly different charging needs than the family car.

“Building charging infrastructure for electric semi-trucks poses different challenges compared to charging infrastructure for regular EVs: Long-haul semi-trucks need to be charged relatively fast, which requires much more power than regular fast chargers for passenger vehicles, [and] they need lots of real estate connected to the grid to park and maneuver,” wrote Bianca Giacobone in a Business Insider post. “The majority of electric passenger vehicles charging stations have fast charging at around 150 kilowatt. To charge fast enough, a semi-truck would need something closer to a full megawatt and a station that allows multiple trucks to be charged with that amount of power at the same time.”

According to a May 11 fact sheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), there were 6,700 public DC (direct current) fast-charging stations in the United States at that time, “but most only serve passenger vehicles,” and lack of a “widespread heavy-duty truck charging network” means that electric trucks are largely limited to regional routes that allow drivers to make use of private chargers at warehouses and other truck-charging-friendly locations.

The startup race to charge electric big rigs

The dearth of charging stations for electric trucks has caught the attention of startups and investors looking to cash in on the opportunity, as Aarian Marshall noted in a recent article for Wired. He also noted that since building a charging infrastructure for electric semi-trucks is an expensive and years-long endeavor, picking the right location for vehicles that haven’t yet been built can be a tricky task.

Marshall said one company that’s taking a strategic approach to doing so is TeraWatt Infrastructure, a startup based in San Francisco.

“TeraWatt analyzes zoning maps and data on highway usage, and it monitors government incentives for electrification…” Marshall wrote. “It talks with electricity providers about where it will be easiest to feed enormous amounts of power—potentially a small town’s worth—into an electric truck in the time it takes the driver to down a sandwich and a coke.”

He noted that the company plans to build stations in 19 states and that it has also acquired the real estate needed to set up seven charging locations along “freight-heavy” Interstate 10, which connects the Port of Long Beach with El Paso, Texas, on the Mexico border.

“TeraWatt’s plans also include networks of fleet chargers on major freight routes along the East Coast and West Coast of the US,” Marshall said.

On its website, the company says it “powers light, medium, and heavy-duty fleets with full-spectrum electric vehicle charging solutions” and tells customers it can make it possible to “charge your EV fleet at the heart of where your business operates.” In this context, charging location options include:

  • Industrial hubs that are “located in close proximity to warehouses and distribution centers,” and are “designed for local and regional haul fleets looking to charge between shifts or overnight.”

  • Highway corridors in which charging stations are “located along major freeways,” and are “designed for regional and long haul fleets looking for an en-route top up.”

  • Urban settings in which charging stations are “located in downtown areas or near airports,” and are “designed for all forms of light duty vehicle charging.”

In a recent post, TeraWatt outlined some of the complexities involved with building big-rig charging capabilities: “For heavy-duty fleets, the EV charging challenge is particularly complex. The freight industry’s success has been built on a reputation of dependability and consistency — factors that have been underpinned by easy access to diesel. Understandably, trusting in a new system of electric charging infrastructure is daunting, especially given the inherent complexities and challenges posed by the infrastructure itself.”

TeraWatt noted that building the EV charging infrastructure for semi-trucks is expensive, with soft costs such as “setting up communications between utilities and providers and permitting processes” making up the bulk of expenses.

Additionally, the company described the space and power requirements that must be met to charge heavy-duty EVs efficiently: “The amount of electricity it takes to power one truck is the same as one big box store. … While a charging station in front of a grocery store might only require ~15-20kW of power for two L2 chargers, a charging center capable of charging 10 semi-trucks will likely require several megawatts of power, not to mention take up a lot more space than two passenger vehicle parking stalls.”

Underscoring the need for the electric big-rig charging infrastructure to be “future-proofed,” TeraWatt said expected advances in charging technology will require system upgrades.

Specifically, the company noted that when the MegaWatt Charging System (MCS) becomes widely available in the next few years, current charging systems will need to be replaced with the most up-to-date technology to optimize charging efficiency.

And what is the MSC?

We’re glad you asked.

Please join us next week to learn more!

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