Making Sense of the Charging Infrastructure Needs for Electric Vehicles

March 26, 2019

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Charging infrastructure has repeatedly been listed as one of the largest unknowns and sources of anxiety for fleets considering near-term adoption of commercial battery electric vehicles. To help provide clarity about charging, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) recently issued a Guidance Report, Amping Up: Charging Infrastructure For Electric Trucks.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the charging problem, there are some common steps and considerations any fleet can use to help ensure they get the right charging system for their needs.

There are some common steps and considerations any fleet can use to help ensure they get the right charging system for their needs.

Hardware, Software, and Maintenance

There are three important components that must be included when planning charging infrastructure: hardware, software/networking, and maintenance.

The hardware includes the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), better known as the charging station. Plug-in charging stations are the most common, but as of yet charging station connections have not been standardized and there are competing connector types on the market.

Charging software is the key to easily and cost-effectively managing fleet charging. Software allows multiple chargers on one site to communicate with one another in order to optimize sequencing, load management and variable time of day electricity rates. The end result is smart charging.

Charger maintenance is important and may include services such as proactive monitoring and repair of equipment. Monitoring allows the user to identify and address problems before they become crises.

Fleets can decide to purchase charging stations and the associated infrastructure outright or may decide to lease them, in which case they pay a fee to the owner of the station for using them.

Grid Capacity & Future Demand

One concern that is often expressed is whether the electric grid will be able to handle the increased demand on electricity that wider scale deployment of electric vehicles will bring.  Grid capacity will need to be improved and perhaps a new generation needed. Utilities may also need to develop new demand management and/or storage solutions to help balance timing concerns with electricity supply and demand.

Similarly, new tariff structures may be necessary in order to encourage smart charging when electricity supply is available, clean, and economical.  At the same time though, energy efficiency efforts in many sectors are creating decreased demand for electricity and as renewable sources such as wind and solar continue their growth, this concern is mitigated.

Utilities will likely prefer that electric trucks not charge during peak demand periods and there may be some changes in their rate structure with things like time-of-use rates.

Navigating the Charging Infrastructure Maze

One important conclusion of the report is that getting a charging infrastructure in place requires advanced planning and the managing of a variety of variables. To help fleets navigate the charging infrastructure maze, NACFE developed a roadmap which lays out step-by-step what fleets need to do in order to get a charging system installed at their location.

The steps include:

  1. Engaging the utility
  2. Choosing vehicles
  3. Determining charging needs
  4. Assessing financing
  5. Procuring charging components
  6. Designing a site plan
  7. Applying for permits
  8. Deploying charging infrastructure

Regardless of the number of electric vehicles in the fleet, the roadmap is the same, even with the added complexity scale brings to the process.

Given that fleets are looking for some clarity when it comes to charging infrastructure, NACFE released these conclusions and recommendations that focus on near term opportunities.

Foreseeable Future & Immediate Future Opportunities

There will be a stronger focus on charging for medium-duty vehicles, but also an emphasis on depot or return to base charging. In fact, one key finding from the report was that, for the foreseeable future, electric truck charging will be private and depot based. In the immediate future, we do not expect to see public fast charging corridor networks that will be able to handle the charging needs of commercial battery electric vehicles.

Partnering with Utilities

Fleet managers planning to add CBEVs to their fleet need to start working with utilities early on and continue to work with them throughout the entire process. Fleets will need to look at utilities as partners and should remember that because of approvals and new construction can be time consuming so they need to allow plenty of lead time at the beginning of the process.

Fleet managers planning to add CBEVs to their fleet need to start working with utilities early on and continue to work with them throughout the entire process.

As more electric trucks are deployed, in theory the more streamlined the process will become. In some instances utilities are working with fleets to offer “make ready” options and programs to ensure that facilities have the electrical distribution infrastructure needed.

Software is Crucial

Another main finding is the importance of smart charging via software. In order to minimize both infrastructure capital and installation costs and operating expenses, fleets should invest in smart, network charging software and services especially in instances when they have multiple CBEVs or ones with large battery capacity. Doing so may help mitigate demand charges.

Staying Informed in a Rapidly Evolving Space

As with all new technologies, there will be a learning curve with charging infrastructure for battery electric vehicles and for the vehicles themselves. Avoid making conclusions about the viability of a charging solution in the first months it is available. Fleets, as well as utilities, regulators, and technology providers are constantly learning and developing in this rapidly evolving space, so improvements are likely to be continually occurring.

One last thought: although today the charging infrastructure is not sufficient, we can take comfort from history and see the problem is not insurmountable. Thomas Edison filed his first patent for the light bulb in 1879, which was well before there was a power grid in the U.S. Light bulb and electric motor technology helped spark development of new infrastructure for the new technology.  Throughout the course of history the lag between product introduction and infrastructure investment has been repeated numerous times. There is no reason to think it won’t happen again with electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure.

To learn more, join us for a one-hour webinar, “Medium- & Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicle Charging Roadmap,” on Thursday, April 4 at 10:00 a.m. PT/1:00 p.m. ET. Register for the webinar here.

At this year’s ACT Expo, attendees can also join NACFE on Tuesday, April 23 for the Help Shape the Future of Regional Freight Movement workshop. The NACFE team will lead discussions and create dialogue to ensure fleets are up-to-speed on the latest and greatest technology for saving money and reducing emissions. To learn more, view the ACT Expo agenda


About the Author: Mike Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for over 30 years, is the Executive Director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and leads the Trucking Efficiency Operations for the Rocky Mountain Institute / Carbon War Room.

About NACFE: The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to doubling the freight efficiency of North American goods movement. NACFE operates as a nonprofit in order to provide an independent, unbiased research organization for the transformation of the transportation industry. Data is critical, and NACFE is proving to help the industry with real-world information that fleets can use to take action. In 2014, NACFE collaborated with Carbon War Room, founded by Sir Richard Branson and now a part of Rocky Mountain Institute, to deliver tools and reports to improve trucking efficiency.  Learn more at