Benefits evident from truck stop electrification

by Katy de Vries

OTTAWA, Ont. – Trucking undergoes regulation changes and refinements constantly and two areas progressively demanding more attention are the power-related issues of running a truck and the impending environmental effects of idling.

A truck requires power to run heating and cooling systems and not to mention the entertainment units, computers, microwaves or televisions drivers install in their cabs.

Providing A/C shore power outlet terminals at truck stops and rest areas would seem to be a natural progression in the pursuit for a cleaner and more economical way to provide power to the truck.

Pilot projects and studies in the U.S. have shown an inherent interest in the electrification of truck stops.

Mark Duvall, technology development manager for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, Calif., says shore power use would see benefits on many different levels.

“There is something in it for everyone,” says Duvall, “with the cost of diesel fuel, it makes it an attractive financial prospect for the driver and the trucking company.”

Currently the EPRI is working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Xantrex Technology Inc., U.S. utility companies and some U.S. fleets to conduct a pilot shore power study by wiring several truck stops and travel plazas along the I-5 corridor.

“We are in the preliminary stages right now. We are still talking to more fleets,” says Duvall, “but we do have many interested trucking companies.”

Duvall says more proof is needed, but says he is confident that the savings are real.

There are two components to using the shore power option, says Duvall. First the rig must be outfitted with an on-board infrastructure and secondly the truck stop will also need the A/C power infrastructure installed. When ‘plugged in’ the truck will still run all the equipment in the cab, the electronics and the HVAC system, but it won’t drain the battery and no idling will be necessary to maintain temperature or to ensure the truck will start after a night’s rest.

The idea is that noise and air pollution will be reduced, there will be less wear and tear on the truck’s engine and fuel consumption will be decreased, in turn, putting more towards the company’s bottom line.

“I think some people worry that today’s research project is tomorrow’s emissions legislation,” says Duvall, “but we aren’t pursuing this because we want a mandate brought in or to make this something that you have to do, but instead, we want it because it makes economic sense.”

Slowly plans are coming together to launch shore power projects and to get drivers using the technology.

“It is most definitely a viable option,” says Brian Lawrence, manager of the heavy-duty truck segment for Xantrex Technology, a company that provides truck OEMs and aftermarket buyers with inverter/chargers and shore power connections.

Lawrence says it is a classic chicken and egg dilemma, in that the fleets, although interested, haven’t made the demand because the truck stops weren’t offering the service, but conversely, the truck stops weren’t making A/C power outlets available because they hadn’t had the demand from fleets and owner/operators.

However, says Lawrence, the gap is narrowing and soon, he says, we will see trucks running with a complete A/C infrastructure. A survey conducted by the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association and the Argonne National Laboratory, says that 88 per cent of fleet managers and owner/operators surveyed want truck stop electrification and would be willing to pay for it.

Lawrence’s co-worker at Xantrex, Brian Ulrich, says the shore power notion is worthwhile, and he expects that shore power equipment will be offered by more and more OEMs in the future.

The equipment Ulrich speaks of is slightly different from the typical inverter systems fleets tend to carry.

“An inverter system is limited to the amount of battery that the truck is carrying because it takes energy from the battery and converts it to A/C power,” says Ulrich, “but an inverter/charger will work backwards as well, taking A/C power – from a shore power outlet – and converting back to 12 Volt energy to charge the battery.”

Ulrich, product manager of mobile markets, says there is a definite financial incentive to the shore power option.

“Tests we’ve done have shown that the system will be paid for in one year and given a typical fleet ownership of five years, a fleet is looking at four years of savings that will go right to the bottom line,” says Ulrich. “And the truck stops will be selling the electricity that the drivers consume and will also be gaining business from having drivers parked in their parking lots.”

IdleAire Technologies Corporation of Knoxville, Tenn., has also designed a system that dovetails with the electrification option.

The IdleAire system delivers heat, air and other services for cab accessories via a service delivery module that fits in the truck window using an adapter that drivers carry with them. They can select desired services using the module, which is driven by a computer touch screen.

Meanwhile, Canadians have not progressed as far in terms of pilot projects and studies, but are of the same mind that truck stop electrification is a practical and feasible option.

Bob Smith, senior manager for FleetSmart of the Office of Energy Efficiency for Natural Resources Canada, says he has a study underway through the Canadian Electrical Association (CEA).

The CEA is assessing the opportunities for electrification through surveying fleets and truck stops.

“The CEA will have a report ready this month which will tell me what the technology is and how it would work,” says Smith.

“The early reports are showing that industry people are very interested and are discussing alternatives to electricity, such as stationary fuel cells.”

Smith says Canada is caught in a situation where there are not as many major players to get involved in a project like this as there are in the U.S.

“The problem is the way we are structured here in Canada. The Department of Natural Resources are heavily involved in saving energy but we are also involved with climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which is where our focus has been lately,” says Smith. “We do run in partnership with Transport Canada and Environment Canada, but they deal more with regulations and safety issues.”

David Dunfy, Brampton terminal manager for Robert Transport, says this concept is important enough for fleets to consider.

“Personally, I think it would be a great move,” says Dunfy. “I know the cost of fuel and I also know the cost of having a driver idle the truck for a long period of time. I’m sure truck stops would be looking for some sort of subsidy, whether they charge the driver individually or charge a flat rate, but it is something that we would definitely consider if that were the case.”

Kriska Transportation’s vice-president of fleet and safety, Glen Perkins, agrees that it is something that his fleet would look into if more information were made available.

“There are all sorts of reasons why this concept is a good one,” says Perkins, “and if there is a better, more efficient way of monitoring idling, then I’m certainly all for it.”

Smith says the benefits to everyone involved would be tremendous and would be worth the initial up front cost.

“The self-contained package for the truck would likely cost $3,000, a reasonable price,” says Smith, “when you consider the cost of a bunk heater alone is about the same and that will only allow you to heat the cab. The estimated cost for the truck stop package would be $200,000 per truck stop, which is a lot of money up front,” he says, “but it will pay off and I truly think this is where we are headed down the road.”

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