California Dreamin’ of Transportation Electrification

Jan. 31, 2022
Utility companies and carriers that operate there tell how they’re working together to support burgeoning battery-electric fleets and finance and build the charging infrastructure those fleets will need

By Scott Achelpohl, Managing Editor, Fleet Owner Magazine

What does it take to charge 100 battery-electric vehicles?

As it turns out, a lot—many details, involving risk and commitments by freight haulers to buy BEVs with brand-new technology from OEMs that lead in electrification, much planning by these fleets and early outreach to and months-long scheduling with utilities to design and install the charging infrastructure necessary to support these all-electric vehicles. Of course, all this takes money—and there are multiple financing options to get all this work done as part of several California programs.

One such program—the Joint Electric Truck Scaling Initiative (JETSI), a conglomeration of freight transportation companies in partnership with utilities Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE), and Southern California Edison (SCE) announced in August 2021—is leading all this and showing fleets beyond just those participating in SoCal how electrification can happen.

The participants in JETSI, including representatives from the utilities and $3 billion third-party logistics company NFI Industries, gathered for a webinar on Jan. 26 co-sponsored by Advanced Clean Tech News to talk about the inner workings and goals of Southern California’s JETSI, which will be the largest single deployment of Class 8 BEVs to date in North America.

By 2023, the project plans to replace about 690,000 gallons of diesel fuel that would otherwise be burned in trucking operations in the region and aims to eliminate 8,247 metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) and reduce pollutants there by 5 tons in that two-year period.

NFI and Schneider, the other participating carrier in the project, funded jointly by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC), each plan to deploy 50 BEVs in the region. NFI alone plans to deploy 30 of Daimler’s Freightliner eCascadias with an additional and 20 Volvo VNR electrics through JETSI, in regional haul but mostly in drayage operations in and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. JETSI also plans to organize installations of 350 kW ultra-fast DC cabinets with 38 fast chargers.

The webinar gave stakeholders an opportunity to pass along how-to advice from a program with the early experience—with fleets making the commitment to electrification—in getting infrastructure financed, built, and operating. It’s the freight haulers, particularly, that have a lot invested and are taking on much of the risk in this electrification effort.

“Now more than ever, our customers are not only publicizing their sustainability goals, but they’re asking us for ours,” said James O’Leary, VP of assets for NFI. “There’s nothing like being part of a project like JETSI that allows our customers to see that we’re willing put our money where our mouth is.”

“What could be more innovative,” he added, “than a Class 8 heavy-duty truck hauling 40,000 lbs. with zero emissions on a single charge? It’s a no-brainer.”

NFI’s facility in the region, which is still in the permitting process, O’Leary said, will house fast chargers for NFI’s BEVs but will also deploy solar panels and battery storage to support them. NFI’s port drayage operations “are perfect for electric trucks,” he noted, where the average trip time during runs in and out of the Port of Long Beach is about 150 miles—less than a single charge cycle.

If you’re an executive and are planning for your fleet to go electric, early engagement with your local electric utility is key, said Jason Groves, business development adviser in transportation electrification with Southern California Edison. After all, you can’t run all-electric trucks without an extremely specific charging infrastructure. Groves said it takes a year to develop an electrification project, submit site applications, and design and build the infrastructure.

See also: Volvo Trucks launches VNR Electric with longer range

To get the JETSI experiment going, communication with utilities starts two years before the first BEV charges, said moderator JoAnne Golden, senior VP, programs, with Gladstein Neandross & Associates (GNA), a SoCal environmental consultant and partner in JETSI.

“We encourage communication with the utility two years out—or more,” Golden said, “especially with something large-scale like 50 vehicles. It’s all about meeting power requirements. It’s difficult to get that going and built when the utility doesn’t have advance notice.”

All sorts of incentives are available, particularly for fleets that operate in California.

Charge Ready Transport, which is Southern California Edison’s program to help meet the state’s GHG-elimination goals, helps build charging infrastructure for SCE customers that deploy EV medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, and off-road equipment. Charging hardware rebates are available to client fleets, which must run a minimum of two BEVs to qualify, Groves said.

San Diego Gas and Electric is getting a $107 million program similar to Charge Ready Transport up and running that will roll out over the next five years and support 3,000-plus new Classes 2-8 BEVs, on-road and vocational, from 300-plus customer sites, both commercial and private, Lianna Rios, SDGE’s clean transportation customer solutions manager, said during the webinar. SDGE’s program requires participating fleets to operate their all-electric assets for a minimum of 10 years.

Tim O’Neill, electric vehicle fleet customer onboarding specialist with PG&E, said that the utility’s own program requires a minimum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 6,000 lbs. to participate, freight delivery vehicles Classes 2-6.

He said participating customers must show they’ve ordered their BEVs or have been approved for grants to buy them. These fleets also must show a commitment to reducing GHG and have an electrification plan in place, O’Neill said. In exchange, customers usually receive a 25% discount on their electricity for charging. PG&E maintains a fuel and emissions savings calculator for companies that are thinking about committing to electrification.

Governor outlines $10 billion zero-emission package

The same day as the electrification webinar, California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined a plan to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) and fight climate change.

“The future is electric, and we’re making it easier and cheaper than ever before to go electric. That means more assistance to help folks buy clean cars and more charging stations in more communities throughout the state,” Newsom said in a release. “California is eliminating our dependence on oil and providing a blueprint for the entire world on how to aggressively fight the climate crisis while growing the state’s clean energy economy.”

This $10 billion package builds on Newsom’s first-in-the-nation action to shift the automotive industry entirely to all-electric by 2035, utilizing California’s market dominance to accelerate the transition to ZEVs and reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. Electric vehicles have become one of the state’s top exports, and California represents half of the U.S. ZEV market.

Newsom’s plan includes $935 million to add 1,000 zero-emission drayage trucks and 1,700 zero-emission transit buses, $1.5 billion to support school transportation programs, including advancing electric school buses, $1.1 billion for zero-emission trucks, buses, and off-road equipment and charging infrastructure; $400 million to enable port electrification. The California governor’s plan also includes $256 million for low-income consumer purchases and $900 million to expand affordable and convenient ZEV infrastructure access in low-income neighborhoods.

Rensselaer awarded grant to study freight transportation

Elsewhere, the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment (CITE) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, will engage in research to advance understanding of the freight transportation industry in conjunction with the Super Truck 3 program at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rensselaer will receive $2 million over four years as a portion of a larger $18 million grant awarded to Volvo Group North America to pioneer electrified medium- and heavy-duty trucks and freight system concepts. CITE at Rensselaer is a member of the consortium of academic partners and industry sponsors led by Volvo dedicated to investigating new ways of infusing sustainability and efficiency into the way businesses send and receive goods.

“Without a doubt, fostering energy-efficient logistics is a critical element in the fight against climate change,” said José Holguín-Veras, the director of CITE. “With the support of the Super Truck 3 funding, and the deep expertise of our partners, CITE can continue its mission of developing solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems.”

Holguín-Veras, a transportation engineering expert and a professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at Rensselaer, will lead the research team in the study of current energy consumption and emissions in the trucking industry, as well as the characterization of freight activity to establish baseline conditions. Using computer modeling, the center also will identify system innovations and “likely-use” scenarios of the zero-emission truck technology for tractor-trailers.