An introduction to electric truck charging

Electric truck charging is going to revolutionise the way we think about heavy transport. But how does it work, what are the benefits, and what does this new technology mean for fleet owners?

What is electric truck charging?

The electric vehicle (EV) transition is well underway, but the reach of this ever-expanding technology extends way beyond just privately owned cars. Heavy transport vehicles – like buses, vans, and trucks – are also ripe prospects for moving over to electric power.

In the trucking industry in particular, we’re now seeing a rapidly growing number of EV fleets out in the wild – with truck fleet owners taking advantage of all the maintenance, cost, and managerial benefits that switching to electric power has to offer.

In this guide, we’ll be running through everything you’d ever need to know about electric truck charging – from the different power management methods to the fundamentals behind the technology – leaving no stone unturned as we discover why EV trucks represent the cutting edge of heavy transport logistics.

Let’s start with the most obvious upfront question: what are the inherent benefits of the burgeoning electric truck transition?

The benefits of electric truck charging

If you own a fleet of diesel-powered trucks, you’ll be keenly aware of their capabilities and limitations. Traditional engines have thousands of moving parts, need constant maintenance, and run on a polluting, fossil fuel supply that we know is finite at a global level.

Electric trucks are almost the polar opposite, making them a future-proof investment that comes with a raft of pros and very few cons:

Cost savings

While making the switch to electric has obvious upfront costs, EVs are generally cheaper to run than their combustion-engine counterparts. Depending on market rates and location, electricity can be much cheaper than a full tank of gas, while interim maintenance costs (including things like oil changes) keep traditional truck operating costs higher than their modern counterparts.

Reduced maintenance

Traditional truck beds have thousands of moving parts that require frequent maintenance, but the underlying technology found in electric vehicles is much less complex. The so-called ‘skateboard’ that forms the base of an EV or electric truck is a much more streamlined piece of engineering, which means owners and fleet managers will have less ongoing maintenance on their hands – and fewer things that can break.

Environmental benefits

It should go without saying that electric vehicles are much cleaner and more eco-friendly than traditionally powered ones. In the trucking space, though, that extra energy efficiency and lack of emissions can make a huge difference to the planet as a whole. Heavy freight vehicles account for around 16% of total global transport CO2 emissions, so taking all that pollution out of the equation will put a huge dent in greenhouse gas figures.

How does electric truck charging work?

On paper, charging up electric trucks follows exactly the same set of principles as for smaller EVs – you’ll need a charging station, a means of connection, and a way to pay for energy used.

What differs here is the scale. With trucks being much larger, and having bigger batteries by necessity, they require slightly different technology…

Understanding the types of electric truck charging

Plug-in charging

As with other kinds of EVs, plug-in charging requires connecting a cable from a compatible charger to the truck’s battery. There are different standards, referred to as ‘levels’ for plug-in charging, and some levels aren’t suitable for such large vehicles.

Here’s a quick overview:

Level 1 charging

This refers to the kind of charge you can give a car by plugging it straight into the mains socket at home (without an AC wall box). Because this is slow and inefficient, it’s only recommended that cars use Level 1 charging in an emergency, let alone trucks!

Level 2 charging

Level 2 charging is the name given to AC charging, which is the standard the majority of publicly available chargers for small vehicles use. AC charging is fast enough to top a car up in around an hour, but it’ll take a full night for an electric truck, making it less suitable than the next step up…

DC fast charging (Level 3)

DC fast charging is where the action is. Standing for Direct Current, this charging method ups the wattage and pre-converts electricity from the grid from AC to DC in the charging station, saving time on the overall charge. Any electric truck fleet looking to set up charging stations will want to use DC as their go-to standard.

Pantograph charging

Whereas plug-in charging uses an industry-standard cable running from the charger to the truck, pantograph charging removes the need for a cable by using specially built overhead infrastructure.

Using an extendable arm (known as a pantograph) mounted on the top of the vehicle, pantograph charging allows electric trucks and buses to run more efficiently by charging during regular operation thanks to the ability to quickly and automatically hook up to matching charging hardware.

As you might expect, this method is more expensive to set up thanks to its more bespoke hardware requirements, but pantograph charging will likely play an important role in the future for long-haul electric trucking because it allows for ‘opportunity charging’ pit stops along each route – as well as easy overnight depot charging.

Pantograph charging can hit 600kWh (compared to DC plug-in’s roughly 300), which can add 100 miles of range in just 10-15 minutes.

Charging infrastructure for electric trucks

Ok, let’s say you’re looking to transition your fleet of trucks to brand-new electric models. Now that we’ve covered the types of charging technology available, it’s time to think about how you’ll put that to use as an overall infrastructural plan for your fleet.

Or, in other words, it’s time to ask yourself a big question:

How will I keep my trucks topped up and road-ready?

The answer probably lies in a mix of in-depot charging solutions and publicly available chargers. At the depot, DC charging stations or a pantograph setup can allow stationary trucks to charge overnight or while not in use.

While on the road, publicly available DC charging stations – like those found at service stops – can help provide extra power when needed. Or, if your trucks travel predictable routes, you could even set up private charging infrastructure (plug-in or pentagraph) along those routes to provide quick top-ups during each journey.

The best solution is the one that fits the need. In general, the bigger the fleet, the more complex the necessary solution will be to set up. But the benefits of having a complete charging solution will mean having vehicles that are always charged, always ready, and easy for drivers to manage.

Challenges in electric truck charging

As with any big transition, moving to electric power is not without challenges that require either a change in process or a mindset shift to overcome. Here are the common concerns when it comes to electric truck adoption – and how to overcome each one.

Range anxiety

Range anxiety is the term given to drivers’ worry about finding a compatible charger before their mileage is up. For electric truck fleets, mitigating range anxiety means planning well in advance to ensure that your infrastructure can capably meet the needs of each route.

Charging time and availability

Relying on publicly available chargers can result in wait times if things are over-subscribed. Thankfully, more and more chargers are being deployed every day globally, while legislation is being introduced in Europe to ensure that there are heavy vehicle charging facilities every 60km.

Grid capacity

The grid’s ability to handle the added demand from more and more EVs is a common concern, but it’s one that’s now being mitigated by a new wave of demand response and V2G technologies. We’ll cover the role smart software has to play here in the next section…

Electric truck charging solutions for fleets

From a practical standpoint, there’s a lot to think about when planning an electric truck fleet deployment, including:

  • Conducting route analysis to match trucks to duty cycles
  • Right-sizing batteries to balance cost and range
  • Deploying mixed truck types
  • Leveraging flexible charging strategies (depot and en route)
  • Setting electrification and sustainability targets
  • Assessing power capacity and electrical upgrades
  • Selecting your charging equipment (DC Fast, plug-in or pantograph)
  • Determining optimal locations and number of chargers
  • Planning for future growth and expansion
  • Understanding utilities' managed charging options

But most important of all, you’ll need to choose fleet charge management software that can connect the dots, help with optimization, and monitor spending.

Charge management software, like that provided by Spirii, adds a layer of intelligent, connected software to the traditionally hardware-centric business of fleet charging. For fleet managers, that means vehicles that are always near a compatible charger, a keen understanding of charging usage, and happy drivers.

But it also means building a fleet that can function as a proactive part of the energy grid, with the ability to make chargers available to the public at set times, dynamically balance energy usage, and even give power back to utility companies in exchange for extra revenue.

- Spirii offers all that and much, much more…

Find out more here

In summary…

Electric truck charging is the wave of the future, but it’s already in the here and now. Truck fleet owners are increasingly making the transition to electric to save time, money, and headaches – and to enable intelligent new processes at the same time.

With fossil fuel regulation putting a final time limit on the internal combustion engine, we’ll only see more and more EV heavy goods vehicles on the roads – and that means more and more charging infrastructure to match.

With the right mix of prolific hardware and interconnected software, fleet managers looking to make the switch can do so confidently, knowing that they’ll be making a giant leap into the smarter, more efficient future of transportation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take to charge an electric truck?

Charging times for electric trucks vary based on the size of the battery, the charging station power level, and other factors. For a typical Class 8 electric truck with a 500 kWh battery, charging from empty to full could take around 2-4 hours using a high-power DC fast charging station. With Level 2 AC charging, it could take 12 hours or more to fully recharge.

What is the range of an electric truck?

The range of today's electric trucks varies from around 100 to 250 miles on a single charge. New models coming to market are extending that range, with several manufacturers achieving 300 to 500 miles of range per charge. Range will continue to improve as battery technology advances.

How much does it cost to install charging stations for electric trucks?

Installing electric truck charging infrastructure can range in cost depending on the power level. Level 2 charging stations typically cost $5,000-$20,000 per port. High-power DC fast charging stations and pantograph charging solutions cost several times this amount. There are also operating and maintenance costs to consider. Government grants and utility incentives can help offset installation costs.

Can electric trucks use regular charging stations?

Most public charging stations do not provide enough power for electric trucks. Electric trucks require high-powered DC fast charging stations that can provide 250 kW or more. There are some Level 2 charging stations that electric trucks can use for slower overnight charging.

Are there any government incentives for adopting electric truck charging?

Yes! Depending on where you are, federal, state, and local governments can offer incentives for electric truck adoption and charging infrastructure. These include tax credits, rebates, and grants for purchasing electric trucks, installing charging stations, and training workers. Utility companies may also offer incentives for installing charging stations that can help manage grid demand.

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