West Coast utilities studying chargers for electric big rigs

Published on April 22, 2019 by Hil Anderson

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A coalition of West Coast utilities has launched a fact-finding study aimed at clearing a path along a major interstate freeway to encourage more electric semi-trucks and, in return, create a potential growth opportunity for the power grid.

The West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative includes nine utilities that would plant new charging devices that will service the fledgling models of electric-powered heavy trucks that environmentalists, political leaders, and the power industry want to see more of in the coming years. The charging stations will be deployed along busy Interstate 5, the main north-south artery connecting three western states from Mexico to Canada.

“The I-5 corridor is the economic backbone for transporting essential goods and services to our Oregon, Washington and California customers,” said Scott Bolton, senior vice president of External Affairs for Pacific Power. “We see investments in transportation electrification and electric charging infrastructure as a great way to support the economic vitality and environmental quality of communities along that corridor.”

Pacific Power, which serves areas of Washington and Oregon, was joined in the initiative by the other major utilities located along the I-5, including San Diego Gas & Electric; Los Angeles Department of Water & Power; Northern California Power Agency; Pacific Gas and Electric Company; Portland General Electric; Puget Sound Energy; Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and the Southern California Public Power Authority.

The initiative, unveiled April 18, will carry out a study of the most judicious way to deploy charging equipment along the 1,300-mile corridor for electric-powered medium and heavy trucks. The goal is to eventually enable long-distance electric trucks to haul freight through multiple utility territories with a degree of uniformity and less chance of a battery dying out along the way. Key locations for charging infrastructure will be identified and prioritized.

Paul Griffo, senior advisor in corporate communications at Southern California Edison, told Daily Energy Insider that the study would look at the ownership costs of installing chargers at the I-5 sites, but it would not get into the cost of expanding the electrical infrastructure to supply the new network.

“Many of the utilities represented in this partnership already have programs to support charging electric vehicles that travel within our own territories, but for extended shipping and long-haul trucks, we need solutions that we can apply across utility territories,” said Caroline Choi, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs for Edison International and Southern California Edison, in a written statement.

Installing charging stations at existing truck stops along U.S. freeways would seem to be a fairly straight-forward process; however, analysts contend that the trucking industry won’t abandon diesel vehicles until they can be assured that drivers will be able to quickly charge their vehicles when and where they need to, and for a competitive price.

Navigant Research said in an April 16 study that partnerships between truck manufacturers and the companies developing charging equipment would be a more efficient way forward. “While market players are working to design e-trucks and the charging infrastructure systems needed to support long-haul vehicles, long-haul is a very demanding application and poses many significant challenges to electrification, primarily a comprehensive recharging network,” said Research Analyst William Dier.

It will take about a year to complete the Clean Transit Corridor study, after which it will be decided what next steps will be taken to wire up the fabled I-5 and connect it to the regional grid. But the participating utilities are also looking further down the road – a few decades from now – when renewable electricity has become the source of a much larger chunk of the U.S. energy mix.

Slashing the use of gasoline and diesel fuel is a key step in reducing emissions of both greenhouse gases and unhealthy particulates in the air, and utilities are working to advance the number of electric vehicles (EV) on the road.

Dave Robertson, vice president of Public Policy at Portland General Electric, said, “We’re preparing for a future in which quiet, all-electric big rigs haul freight up and down I-5 and its connected major arteries without releasing pollution or carbon into the air.”

Charging EVs, including new generations of cargo trucks, offers a new end-user for alternative energy and also helps with balancing the load on the grid.

Southern California Edison released a white paper noting the benefits of charging EVs at night when power demand is low and vehicles more likely to be off the road. “Transportation electrification can benefit the grid and its customers,” the paper said. “By charging when the grid has excess electric capacity from renewable generation, EVs can improve grid utilization and integrate more clean energy. Alternatively, at times of local supply shortages, an EV could stop charging to alleviate constraints.”