EV charging infrastructure is coming – with little regard for trucking’s needs

In recent weeks there have been attention grabbing headlines that paint an encouraging picture about electric vehicle infrastructure being approved for buildout. But let’s not get too excited.

There’s a glaring oversight that should have the trucking industry concerned. Planned EV charger rollouts are overlooking the needs of one important player in the electric vehicle ecosystem – commercial vehicles.

BEV charger
(Photo: Penske)

On May 16, federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg jointly announced the first Canada/U.S. alternative fuels corridor, stretching from Quebec City to Kalamazoo, Mich. They promised to have EV chargers installed every 80 km along one of the busiest passenger and trade corridors between the two countries.

But when I asked if these chargers would be accessible to commercial vehicles, no answers were forthcoming. On May 25, MP Lloyd Longfield (Guelph) announced on behalf of Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson a plan to fund and install more than 1,800 EV chargers in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and B.C.

More positive news, but again my questions about whether these sites would be commercial vehicle-accessible went unanswered. I can only assume this hasn’t been considered, or remains undecided. Both possibilities are dangerous.

In the U.S., some more promising news came earlier this year. TravelCenters of America along with electrify America agreed to build 1,000 EV chargers at 200 travel stop locations along major U.S. highways. Surely a truck stop chain would ensure those chargers are truck-accessible. But when I asked for confirmation, I was told by a representative “unfortunately, they will only be car accessible.”

Is the trucking industry being left behind as EV charging infrastructure is being deployed? Are we going to have to build twin charging corridors – one for passenger vehicles and another for commercial trucks? Or is government assuming the trucking industry will solely run electric trucks in return-to-base operations and be responsible for developing its own charging infrastructure? It sure looks that way.

We all know hydrogen fuel-cell-electric technology is emerging as an early favorite over battery-electric systems when it comes to longhaul trucking. But battery-electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be a fit for a wide range of regional haul applications if their charging needs are met. The truck market is already populated with a wide variety of commercially available battery-electric trucks. Hydrogen, not so much at this point. Make no mistake, BEVs will play a key role in the decarbonization of the trucking industry.

In Quebec, Hydro Quebec subsidiary Cleo operates one publicly available 350 kW charger for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, among well over 1,000 for passenger vehicles. There’s an appetite to build more, and an understanding that more such chargers are required. Speaking at the EV & Charging Expo 2023 in Toronto in early May, Cleo account manager Sylvain Cabanetos expressed a willingness to expand the Quebec charging network to suit the needs of medium- and heavy-duty truck operators.

But he implored attendees from the trucking industry to provide guidance on locations.

“It’s important to find the right spot to put that charger,” he said. “It’s not the same investment to put in a 350 kW charger as it is for 19 kW [car] charger. Can you explain, what are your routes? Where would you like to have charging-on-the-go? Raise your hand if you know where your route is. We are interested to find the right spots to put those chargers.”

At least someone is asking! For fleets operating, or planning to operate, electric trucks in Quebec, take advantage of this opportunity to ensure truck-accessible chargers are installed when and where you need them.

In other regions, fleets need to speak up now about their present and future charging requirements, or risk being left completely behind as charging infrastructure is built out. A great deal of money is being committed now to developing EV charging infrastructure. But outside of Quebec there seems to be little regard for the charging needs of commercial vehicles.

There seems to be a misperception that all electric trucks will be well-suited for depot charging. But to reach their full potential, BEVs will require a combination of depot and on-the-go charging. The industry needs to speak up about these needs now or risk having to fund it all itself.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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