Preparing for the electrification of heavy duty vehicles

By: Johannes Helgren, Suyash Kulkarni, Sarah Nahar and Saket Sharma

New York State will require that by 2045, all heavy duty vehicles (HDV) are zero-emission, and in preparation for this transition, implementing a test corridor would aid all stakeholders involved. Central New York would be a key area within this test corridor, due to the intersection of Interstate 81 and Interstate 90. We recommend that a test corridor be established for a 50-mile radius around Syracuse by 2030 in order to identify the most beneficial charging model for long-haul operators.

A Syracuse University project team from the Dynamic Sustainability Lab worked together with Alistair Pim, Vice President, Innovation & Partnerships of NECEC to address the pressing need to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of heavy duty vehicles (HDV), which are currently responsible for 26% of GHG emissions nationally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 Fast Facts Report.

In the student’s study, they conversed with industry, government, utility, and private sector stakeholders over the course of four months, January - April 2023. Most significantly, they visited truck stops and interviewed individual HDV drivers to gather data about truck driver awareness of, and thoughts about, the transition to electric trucks.

Stakeholder Conversations and Table of Needs: The students met with the NY Department of Transportation (Thruway Authority), New York Department of Public Service, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), National Grid, among other parties who hold a piece of the puzzle of the HDV EV transition. The table below lists them, their interests and the information they need in order to make informed decisions about capital expenditures that will be necessary for the transition. To obtain the information the team recommends implementing a test corridor in Central New York. Continuing to convene stakeholders to share information generated by the test corridor will assist in dealing with this very disruptive technology, giving a chance for a successful HDV electrification transition.

NECEC’s goal is that the transition to electric HDVs happens in a manner that positively impacts all parties involved. The students noted that a group of stakeholders least researched were the truckers themselves. They interviewed 14 truckers and two station attendants at four different locations–two rest stops on Interstate 90, and two truck stops in the city of Syracuse. With an average interview time of about 15 minutes, they were able to have in depth conversations. The following quotes are examples of sentiments they heard more than once.

“Obviously, you know, reduced emissions, that's one benefit, but other than that I don't really see a huge benefit over like mechanical truck.” - Trucker 4

“Every technology has a human cost to it…truckers will ask how this change will affect the quality of their life” - Trucker 7

“All electric trucks have a much higher torque rating; they are extremely strong” - Trucker 13

“Depending on how fast you want [the vehicle] to charge, not only is it not one charge rate across the board but on top of that, currently there is no unified charger for all ports.” - Trucker 9

“Everywhere you go, there is basically one option, fried chicken mashed potatoes…healthy food would be better.”  - Trucker 2

Walmart offers a lot for truckers - it’s safe, inexpensive for the things I need to buy, I can use the restroom and park there.” - Trucker 15

“[Where I stop for the night depends on] how much time I have left to get to where I need to be. Yeah, so I might pull over on the side of the interstate off the exit.” - Trucker 7

“There is still a lot more research and knowledge needed, a full comparison required to inform us as to which is better.” - Trucker 12

The interview data and conversations with stakeholders led them to note obstacles to the HDV EV transition. The following were the most noted, corroborated by their independent research:

1. Availability for Power Supply

By 2045, large truck stops will require 30 megawatts of power to meet EV charging demands, according to National Grid’s 2022 White Paper. This will favor rest areas, retail options with large parking lots, or public spaces near substations with high power transmission lines.

2. Suitable Locations

HDVs will require ample parking space for charging. NYS Thruway rest areas are forbidden by legislation to expand beyond their current footprint. Finding off-highway additional space for EV charging to occur is a critical need.

3. Cost Effectiveness & Funding Limitations

Among the numerous stakeholders, commitments for capital investment are slim. National Grid is doing calculations, NYSERDA and a few trucking companies are leading the research and development. In their midpoint evaluation white paper, NY DPS recommended maintaining current subsidies for EV infrastructure and expanding the Make Ready program. Lowering the cost barriers to entry is key.

4. Lack of Data Availability

Current data about electric HDVs is limited. The market is new and relatively small. Most current research is limited to California. A test corridor from CNY to Boston, for example, could help remedy this.

5. Compliance Concerns

By 2045, 100% of medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles sold, leased, or listed in New York State must be zero-emission, as per Senate Bill S2758, signed in 2021 by Governor Kathy Hochul. It is unclear how strictly this will be enforced and if NYS truckers will be able to register their diesel trucks in a nearby state.

Given all this, the team makes the following three recommendations, informational for all stakeholders involved in the HDV EV transition:

  1. Participate in the Creation and Study of a Test Corridor

a) Build a HDV test corridor in Central New York. The corridor would collect information on key metrics including charging time, weather and climatic effects, kilowatts per mile used, road wear and tear, range, energy consumption/efficiency, fleet procurement, life cycle analysis, and end-of-life disposal, utility investments in charging infrastructure, creative financing methods, etc. Corridors work best when government, industry, utility, and private sector stakeholders work together. NECEC’s role in coordination has created ideal conditions under which to have a test corridor.

b) In order to give all stakeholders a fair and transparent overview of data management, it is essential to set precise standards for data ownership and access. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is already involved in planning for the future and is an ideal candidate to receive and disseminate data produced by the test corridor. This would ensure the data is administered centrally and consistently, allowing it to foster innovation in the industry.

  1. Worker Care & Awareness

a) We recommended that trucking companies prioritize worker care and awareness, especially during the EV transition of the sector. This can be achieved by implementing policies that improve driver quality of life, such as providing better hygienic facilities and healthier food at rest stops. Compensation for time while the truck is not in motion and the creation of more off-road space were truckers’ suggestions. This is especially important given the current worker shortage due to conditions. Additionally, it's vital to keep truckers updated on industry changes and offer them opportunities for training and skill development so they can adjust to new technology.

  1. Collaboration with Large Retailers

b) We suggest working with major retailers (often with a store located relatively close to highways nationwide) and include them as possible stakeholders in ongoing discussions regarding electrification of HDVs. Truck stops are frequently overcrowded resulting in truckers parking on the shoulder of nearby roads. Collaborating with retailers can help reduce congestion in traditional truck stops and provide similar (or better) amenities than traditional truck stops. The financial incentives may influence them to promote HDV electrification.

Initial Conclusions:

  • Charging time for HDVs will not be as significant a concern as initially thought. Technological advancements are improving the amperage and reducing charging times. During already existing mandatory 30-minute driver breaks, a truck can charge, not taking much longer than refueling a diesel truck.
  • Queueing for charging stations will also not be as big of a concern as expected, related to battery performance. When the truck is not moving, it does not consume much electricity. However, refrigerated trucks require additional energy consumption needs.
  • To accommodate the demand for charging stations, there is a need to increase truck parking and rest stops' quality, as there is already a shortage of off-road parking spaces.
  • While maintenance on EV HDVs is predicted to be significantly lower than diesel, there are concerns regarding emergency fueling, right to repair, and mechanics' ability to repair. Healthy food options for drivers must also be considered.

Further Research:

  • Consider International Commerce and Transportation Issues - Findings from Propulsion Quebec’s work and the Vermont-Quebec corridor can provide some data on cross border scenarios to extrapolate.
  • Start early on Environmental Impact Assessments for any new electric infrastructure - Communities near placement of high voltage transmission lines and substations may have concerns that can be addressed.
  • Research Buses as HDVs; include data from them in the test corridor.
  • Determine who pays for the installation and maintenance of EV chargers - since industries ultimately benefit from the test corridor, their investment is key, and data also shows that ratepayers early investment can pay off in the long run too.
  • Coordinate with entities like NY BES+ to make use of their EV battery storage research and best practices in sustaining a 185-member consortium (industry, utility, government).

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