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West Coast Utilities' Proposed EV Truck Charging Corridor a Good Start But Needs Improvement

Sep 08, 2020

Guidehouse Insights electric car

Electric truck logistics are gathering momentum on the US West Coast. A group of regional electric utilities just released a study recommending the establishment of a network of charging stations for delivery trucks along the full length of Interstate 5 from San Diego, California to Canada.

The proposal coincides with zero emissions mandates for trucks and with large investments in EV fleets from e-commerce and other industries that use the corridor heavily. However, the West Coast Transit Corridor Initiative (WCTCI) should consider more localized infrastructure and utility challenges when supplying increased electricity demand from renewables rather than new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Truck Electrification Taking Off

The WCTCI plan proposes a phased installation of 27 charging sites in 50-mile intervals for medium duty EVs such as delivery vans by 2025. Afterward, 14 of those 27 sites will expand to accommodate charging infrastructure for heavy duty trucks by 2030.

Coinciding with the WCTCI, the California Air Resources Board voted in June to phase in zero emissions requirements for truck sales. This action mandates that, beginning in 2024, manufacturers must increase their zero emissions truck sales by 30%-50% by 2030 and by 40%-75% by 2035. By 2035, more than 300,000 trucks will be zero emissions vehicles.

E-commerce companies are also quickly adopting EV trucks—last-mile delivery is the fastest growing fleet segment, and companies can take advantage of the 20%-25% lower lifetime costs of EV truck ownership. This month, Amazon purchased 1,800 medium duty trucks from Mercedes-Benz for European operations, in the wake of its $4 billion purchase of 100,000 trucks from company-backed Rivian. Operators such as UPS, DHL, FedEx, and the UK’s Royal Mail are making similar investments.

WCTCI Improvements Needed

Charging infrastructure is only one concern in this trend, however. According to Guidehouse Insights’ white paper, The Road to Fleet Electrification, EV-adopting companies are highly motivated by internal sustainability goals. As such, they will expect utilities to meet the significant load growth from transportation electrification with renewables rather than fossil fuel generating units. Significant new investment may be needed, and utilities should be open to CAPEX recovery through innovative rate structures for this new customer class. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric created a commercial EV customer rate that replaces a demand charge with a monthly subscription fee based on customer connection capacity levels, with overage charges for excess use.

Additionally, vehicle use trends are not well reflected in the WCTCI. The plan could benefit from a stronger local commercial EV infrastructure since the medium duty trucks many companies are purchasing are used within smaller geographic areas than the 1,300-mile WCTCI. Though long-haul fleets may find the station intervals useful, there is still significant doubt whether these fleets will favor battery charging over fuel cell technology in the long term. WCTCI could improve by including a fuel cell logistical element as well.