Path to Commercialize Heavy-Duty Battery Electric Vehicles

September 6, 2019

Across the nation, more than 70% of all goods used in our daily lives are transported to stores and homes by trucks. As the nation’s demand for goods continues to reach record levels, our cities face increasing congestion, noise, and air pollution. Residents living along transportation corridors and near freight warehouses bear disproportionate exposure to truck tailpipe emissions, contributing to serious respiratory issues and health concerns.

Residents living along transportation corridors and near freight warehouses bear disproportionate exposure to truck tailpipe emissions, contributing to serious respiratory issues and health concerns.

To tackle this issue head on, the world’s largest truck manufacturers—including Daimler, Volvo, Mack, Kenworth, and Peterbilt—have stepped forward with commitments to introduce zero emission trucks for a range of traditionally diesel-dominated applications, including urban delivery, refuse, and regional haul. Battery electric trucks present tremendous future benefits—a reduction in “fuel” costs, simplified maintenance, and the elimination of tailpipe emissions.

While the benefits sound promising, the path to widescale deployment of heavy-duty electric trucks won’t be accomplished overnight. Aside from these trucks not yet being widely available for purchase, preparing for heavy-duty electric trucks presents a host of challenges.

Implementing charging infrastructure will require electric utilities to make significant upgrades in order to safely deliver large amounts of power to a network of charging facilities without putting tremendous stress on the existing grid.

Fleet operators also face facility infrastructure upgrades. While consumers can charge electric passenger vehicles over several hours using standard household outlets, charging multiple heavy-duty trucks at one time requires significant power that a facility might not be capable of delivering. Once the utility power and charging equipment are in place, fleet operators must learn to navigate the new reality of using electricity as a “fuel,” which is vastly different than procuring diesel. Drawing power at peak times can cause major spikes in utility costs and wipe out any savings from electrification. Additionally, unexpected downtime due to insufficiently charged vehicles equates to time and money loss for a fleet.

Public and private entities have begun working together to address these complex challenges. One exciting project, called Volvo LIGHTS, is a partnership between Volvo Group, California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, and 14 other organizations, including infrastructure developers, an electric utility, workforce development entities, a truck dealership, and two fleet operators—each representing a component necessary to lay the fundamental groundwork for widespread electric vehicle commercialization.

With a goal to transform goods movement, the Volvo LIGHTS project focuses on demonstrating the ability for heavy-duty, battery electric trucks and equipment to reliably and efficiently move freight with less noise and zero emissions.

With a goal to transform goods movement, the project focuses on demonstrating the ability for heavy-duty, battery electric trucks and equipment to reliably and efficiently move freight between Southern California’s two major ports to warehouses throughout the region with less noise and zero emissions.

Leading the project, Volvo will deploy 23 multi-configuration Class 8 battery electric demonstration units with ranges up to 250 miles. Two local freight movement fleets—NFI Industries and Dependable Supply Chain Services—will demonstrate the ability for battery electric trucks to reliably transport goods in their daily routes. Other fleet operators will be able to lease battery electric trucks from TEC Equipment, with staff fully trained to provide service and maintenance.

Southern California Edison, the local electric utility, is developing a grid impact assessment and strategies to ensure they can provide reliable and cost-effective power to commercial fleet operators. Burns & McDonnell will install onsite smart chargers using Greenlots’ cloud software, integrating with Volvo’s truck telematics to balance the needs of the vehicle, facility, and utility grid. To further mitigate grid impacts and energy costs, NFI and Dependable are integrating onsite solar panels.

Trillium is building one of the nation’s first publicly accessible fast-charging truck stations, enabling fleet operators to conveniently recharge vehicles while out on routes. Public access charging supports fleet operators testing electric options without having to commit significant upfront resources, enabling the Volvo LIGHTS project to benefit fleet operators throughout the region and better preparing California for widespread electrification.

To ensure the next generation of maintenance technicians is primed for electric truck service and repair, two Southern California colleges, Rio Hondo College and San Bernardino Valley College, are offering electric truck technician training programs.

Volvo LIGHTS is an innovative project funded by California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities. The total project will cost $90 million, with a funding award of $44.8 million.

Volvo LIGHTS serves as a high-level roadmap for the kind of investment and collaboration that will be required to successfully implement an end-to-end electrified transportation future.