CommercialFleet

In it for the long haul: how to get the charging infrastructure right for electric truck fleets

By Paul Sernia, chief product officer, Tritium

Electric trucks are suddenly no longer a speck on a far-off horizon, and it’s both a matter of evolution and necessity that manufacturers are shifting from internal combustion engines to those running on batteries.

Research by fleet management and telematics firm Geotab found that nine in every 10 UK fleet managers believe that EVs will have a dominant role in their fleets by 2028, with 54 per cent incorporating EVs in some form already.

A positive environmental impact (59 per cent), a potential reduction in operation and maintenance of fleets (42 per cent), and a way to combat the increasing cost of fuel (46 per cent) are cited as leading motivators behind the move to EVs.

Further, freight providers, such as Daimler, are moving ahead with electric truck programs to meet the requirements of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) initiative. ULEZ is set to come into effect from April this year and is estimated to affect approximately 3,000 trucks per day.

Failing to meet the strict emission standards could result in fines of £100 each day.

For fleet owners, it’s no longer a question of whether to electrify, but when. And transitioning to a zero-emission fleet is not just about the truck itself, but also the charging infrastructure needed to power it.

Thankfully, charging infrastructure has evolved in line with that of the vehicles, and in many cases has exceeded them, ensuring the networks are effectively future-proofed.

At the most basic level, an EV charging solution should meet your fleet’s needs today, be able to grow with you, and serve your bottom line. Choosing what will work for you requires considering the entire charging ecosystem.

Go with the highest power possible. DC fast chargers are best for fleets, with options for 50kW chargers to 175–475kW (the high-powered charging range).

Get the highest-powered technology you can, as this will future-proof the network, particularly as the batteries in electric trucks increase in capacity and evolve to capitalise on faster charge rates – the faster you charge, more trucks you can charge per day.

A light footprint. You want charger heads that will fit conveniently into the facility and will expand to serve more vehicles. You need to plan for more than chargers, though: don’t forget about electrical cabinets and where you might place them. Do you need to make more space?

You want to be able to expand power capabilities without expanding your footprint: the difference in footprint between chargers can vary quite significantly, and by as much as 75 per cent in the case of high-power chargers.

Long-term cost savings. Don’t overlook cost savings over the life of the solution. Highly efficient chargers lose less energy, and that can translate to significant savings over time. High-power chargers also need to perform at their best in all kinds of weather and temperatures, so make sure cooling is adequate.

Liquid-cooled, sealed units will save money because they keep out dirt and rain, reducing maintenance costs.

Speed up the ROI. You may also be able to add a revenue stream and get a faster payback on your charger investment by serving the public or other fleet vehicles if you’re not using your chargers all the time.

Scalability. Think about the long-term vision for your business—charging infrastructure should be able to grow with you.

Does the solution allow you to add charging power or more chargers easily and relatively inexpensively? Upgrading infrastructure can be very expensive, especially if you don’t plan for it.

Flexibility. Since fleets typically include multiple vehicle classes, makes, and models, your charging system should be able to power all of them and work with any charging standard. You also want to ensure your provider can customise both hardware and software for your needs.

Utility needs and benefits. You’ll need to work with your utility to install new lines and determine what demands your facility may place on the grid when your fleet is fully electrified.

Get in touch with them ahead of time so there are no surprises (and you’re not waiting months for needed connectivity). You can also talk with your utility about taking advantage of demand-response pricing that will enable you (and the utility) to save money by charging during off-peak periods.

A strong support team. Support is not only about fixing technical problems. Does your provider monitor the technology to spot problems before they arise and prevent or fix them before they become an issue?

This is a challenging shift for the industry to undertake, but one that can provide many opportunities for truck manufacturers and fleet managers alike. They can help spur the development of new solutions, can reduce climate-changing emissions, and ultimately boost the bottom line in the process.

The move to electric vehicles is both inevitable and inspiring, and the trucking sector is set to be among the first to make this significant shift in the UK. All that is needed is to get the correct infrastructure in place from the start in order to maximise the substantial benefits this evolution will bring. 

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