Time to take chargers out of the port

In-Depth

Siting e-truck charging stations away from port areas carries a number of advantages, new drayage trucking data research claims.

First and last mile drayage is an essential component of US container supply chains. Dray shipping typically involves transporting goods from a port or intermodal facility to their next destination within the same city or area. Drayage trucks link different shipping modes, often occurring just before or after ocean or rail carriage. This process may involve moving freight to and from container ships, warehouses, distribution centers, or rail yards.

However, these trucks are mostly powered by diesel engines. The estimated 60 million drayage movements in North America each year burn billions of gallons of diesel, contributing to poor air quality and adverse health outcomes. Electrifying these trucks should improve local health and reduce climate impacts.

But providing sufficient charging infrastructure in the right locations is challenging. A lack of robust data and analysis has hampered the development of stakeholders’ electrification strategies. They need to know how many trucks are on the road, how many trips they take, and how many depots will be needed to power them if they are electrified.

At first sight, locating charging stations within the port area might seem the obvious solution. But research by two think tanks – Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Mission Possible Partnership (MPP) – points out that having trucks charging or waiting to charge takes up scarce space in crowded port areas.

By installing chargers further away from ports, this space can be freed up, thereby relieving congestion. RMI and MPP analyzed drayage trucking data in Los Angeles (LA) County to get a clearer understanding of where trucks typically go before and after passing through the Port of Los Angeles.

Why LA?

LA County is home to the country’s two busiest ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach) and consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most polluted areas. Research shows that people living near these ports experience higher rates of asthma and are more likely to develop cancer than those living in other parts of the county, RMI and MPP assert.

To support the electrification of trucks and improve local health, California passed an Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation requiring that fleets buy only electric drayage trucks beginning in 2024; it also requires that all drayage trucks be zero-emissions vehicles by 2035.

Many Californian fleets, utilities, local governments, and others are worried that they will not be able to meet these targets. A key concern is the challenges to charging deployment. Retrofitting a site, providing charging to drivers that have their own vehicles and do not return to a depot, and ensuring the grid can quickly and economically power electric trucks with clean energy are critical to meeting ACF requirements.

Where and how

The analysis found that creating well-located charging locations would result in faster deployment and lower grid costs, while accelerating truck, transit, school bus, and car electrification.

The map in Fig 1 shows that most drayage truck trips are within 25 miles of the port and therefore do not need to return to a central charging depot. If stakeholders prioritise installing chargers in other areas, fleets can enjoy more operational flexibility, which could result in improved bottom lines.

Figure 1

Analysis from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s (NACFE) ‘Run on Less’ Electric DEPOT — a biannual event that demonstrates advances in freight efficiency across the United States — shows that today’s electric trucks can handle many existing return-to-base operations.

For example, more than 50% of drayage operations in LA travel to destinations within LA County. Current electric truck battery ranges can easily meet fleets’ needs, which means that the transition to zero-emissions vehicles is technologically viable today.

Charging providers want their chargers to be well-used, as high-power chargers and the grid connections they require have high capital and fixed costs.

A charger that can serve many types of vehicle is mutually beneficial to users; making chargers accessible to transit buses, garbage trucks, and other commercial fleets makes these fleets more likely to electrify and makes charging more economic. In addition, more vehicles help defray the costs of installing and maintaining chargers, as these other customers could take on some of the expense.

Telematics

Using telematics to identify where vehicles stop and start – not just where they begin and end the day – makes siting charging stations easier. RMI has used Tech firm Geotab’s Altitude Platform since 2022. This provides aggregate trucking insights on roughly 15% of the freight market in a form that lends itself to mapping and modelling.

Today’s trucking charging stations are generally concentrated in areas with existing demand. Deploying chargers elsewhere would lessen the likelihood of grid bottlenecks while improving fleet operations, the research suggests.

Power shortage

However, one of the major barriers to charging deployment is getting power to existing sites. ‘Run on Less’ participants were found to have waited three or more years for utilities to supply power to their sites, a problem that worsens when demand is concentrated in areas with insufficient grid capacity.

Currently, drayage truck charging stations are mostly located in ports and depots. If stakeholders continue to prioritize installing chargers in these areas, power demand will put considerable pressure on local grids, which is not likely to be able to reliably support growing charging needs, creating grid bottlenecks.

Figure 2

These bottlenecks can have significant logistical and financial repercussions, while distributing chargers over a larger area, and further away from ports, can help relieve strain on the grid in places where there is already trucking activity.

RMI and MPP say their analysis shows where trucking destinations are located, and this data can help infrastructure providers prioritize where new chargers should be installed. For instance, the map in Fig 2 shows that industrial areas such as Carson and Compton have a large amount of drayage truck activity.

Installing chargers in these areas would serve trucks’ charging needs while also lessening their dependence on ports and depots. Ideally, new chargers should be in places where there is already sufficient grid capacity.

Thankfully, truck routes tend to end in industrial areas, which often have a higher grid capacity than commercial and residential neighborhoods.

And given that industrial zoning regulations, permitting, and approval processes are often less cumbersome, charging deployment projects can move at a faster pace.

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