June 9, 2023

Megawatt truck charging arrives – albeit slowly


A drone’s-eye view of Schneider’s new heavy-duty electric truck charging facility east of Los Angeles provides a glimpse of the future of megawatt charging. Other than the Tesla Semi, a purpose-built electric truck, no current electric truck can take such a high-powered charge. 

But distributing the 1.2 megawatts of power at its South El Monte Intermodal Operations Center — over half the size of a football field — is a good start. The facility revealed on Wednesday features 16 350-kW dual-corded dispensers, allowing the carrier to charge 32 trucks simultaneously at 175 kW, achieving an 80% charge within 90 minutes.

Chargers at Schneider’s new electric truck facility in El Monte, California. (Photo: Schneider)

“It’s a whole new generation of energy,” Randal Kaufman, sales director for energy consultant Black & Veatch, told me. “And it makes sense to start with transportation because it’s the greatest impact on reducing pollution that’s achievable in the near term.”

Southern California Edison, working with Black & Veatch and others, completed construction in just four months after planning began in July 2021. They installed a centralized cabinet with switching equipment, direct current with cable connections to the 16 dispensers where trucks can pull up on either side, similar to diesel pumps.

That kind of charging ability makes electric trucks viable at scale.

The Schneider project benefitted from $27 million from the California Air Resources Board and  California Energy Commission through the Joint Electric Truck Scaling Initiative (JETSI). It came together in less than two years, much faster than such a large installation would typically take. It is a showpiece for what is possible. Similar projects will take longer — a lot longer in some cases.

Schneider trucks charging simultaneously in El Monte, California. (Photo: Schneider)

NFI Industries waiting out delays

NFI Industries also received JETSI funds to build a similar installation in Ontario, California. That’s the Inland Empire destination of drayage hauls from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Design delays mean that NFI’s installation won’t be fully energized until early 2024. 

“Our [maintenance] shop is up. Our conduit is going in. We’re going to have some temporary charging there, probably in August,” Bill Bliem, NFI senior vice president of fleet services, told me. “We’re just using our existing infrastructure until then.”

The biggest delay came from back orders of medium-duty voltage switchgear. NFI’s site ultimately will have 7 MW of energy, plus 1 MW of solar power and 5 MWh of battery backup. “So that added to the complication of the design,” Bliem said.

When energized in the first quarter of 2024, it will be capable of charging 38 trucks at 175 kW at the same time.

Holding off on electric truck deliveries

NFI’s plan to transition its entire California drayage fleet of 100 trucks to battery-electric power is intact. But the infrastructure delays mean the company will delay taking delivery of the final 30 or 40 eCascadia and Volvo VNR Electric trucks.

“We’re still excited about doing all this stuff,” Bliem said. “It just gets frustrating sometimes when you face delay after delay after delay.”

Kaufman has been there.

“Getting 10 megawatts from a utility, depending on where you are and which utility and how many other people are asking for power, it will definitely [take time],” he said. “I had one project in Northern California. All they wanted was half a megawatt for Level 2 [alternating current] charging. And because of the location of the site, the utility said, ‘You can have it in 2026.’” 

Charging standard for the future

Black & Veatch, which operates across the electric charging ecosystem, says a globally agreed-upon common megawatt charging system (MCS) will make a huge difference.

The standard focuses on Class 6-8 commercial vehicles. But it could apply to buses, aircraft or other large battery electric vehicles with huge battery packs capable of accepting a charge rate of greater than 1 MW.

“This connectivity standard was a major gate that had to be passed before they could go to the next level,” Kaufman said. 

The energy density of batteries — how much charge they can take at one time — will grow over time. Kaufman compared it to the difference between the size of a home water pipe and one feeding a fire hydrant.

“For megawatt charging, you need a bigger pipe,” he said. “I think by the end of next year, we’ll see both the megawatt chargers in the ground and we’ll have megawatt-capable vehicles.”

The big box power supply for Schneider’s 16 dual-powered chargers. (Photo: Schneider)

TuSimple looks east

We may now know why TuSimple decided against selling off its China-based Asian autonomous trucking software business.

The company is participating in testing autonomous trucks in Japan toward possible driverless operation in 2026. The testing is on Japan’s Tomei Expressway, which connects Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. And it has received an all-clear to test driverless trucks in China.

TuSimple Japan completed a series of safety validation and testing work of its autonomous driving system with a local Japanese OEM’s truck in 2021. It began test runs with safety drivers in January.

The Japanese government plans to launch a self-driving lane on some sections of the New Tomei Expressway by 2024 . It will allow commercial operation of fully autonomous trucks without human drivers in 2026.

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported in 2022 that 45.2% of the drivers in the country’s transportation industry were age 50 or older. That could impact an existing driver shortage.

Late Thursday, the company said it has been awarded a fully driverless test license by the Pudong New Area of Shanghai in China. That will allow TuSimple to conduct fully autonomous driverless testing in designated test areas of Yangshan Deep-water Port and Donghai Bridge. Shanghai is expected to become the first city in China to pass legislation allowing fully driverless testing of autonomous trucks.

TuSimple is planning a driverless commercial run between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, next year. It will use the same route it has piloted with no human in the cab. 

Meanwhile, despite a delisting threat of its stock from the Nasdaq, TuSimple (NASDAQ: TSP) shares continue to rise, closing Thursday at $2.21 a share, nearly three times its 52-week low of 75 cents.

A TuSimple software-enabled autonomous truck in Japan. (Photo: TuSimple)

Briefly noted …

Volvo Autonomous Solutions is opening an office in Texas to prepare for its all-in commercial autonomous hub-to-hub transport.

Navistar is committing to develop science-based targets for emissions aligned with Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) criteria. It will submit the targets for validation. 

Performance Food Group plans to buy five fuel-cell electric vehicles from Hyzon Motors.

Clean transportation advocacy group CalStart reports that 5,483 medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks — Class 2b-8 — were on American roads as of the end of 2022.

Plus is adding Luminar to its list of partners in advancing its stepped-down approach to autonomous trucking.

Mack Trucks has reopened its remodeled Mack Experience Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. 


That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Was this newsletter forwarded to you? Click here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays. And tune in to Truck Tech on FreightWavesTV on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. EDT.

Next week’s scheduled guest is Gareth Joyce, CEO of battery and electric bus maker Proterra Inc. The company’s fight to survive has lots of backers of its products if not its balance sheet.

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