I Read The Electric Truck Stops Study So You Don’t Have To

Estimated read time 7 min read

What I found was revealing, but pretty much nobody in the media is talking about it.

Back before Thanksgiving you might have read some news blurb or maybe even an entire article about a study done concerning electric truck stops and their energy usage. The findings of the study were published in a white paper called Electric Highways: Accelerating and Optimizing Fast-Charging Deployment for Carbon-Free Transportation. After reading the same blurbs and articles it became evident my colleagues only looked at the executive summary instead of digging through all 52 pages of the report. Because I realize you probably don’t have the time or interest to read through the whole thing, I did, and what I found was revealing.

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Before jumping into what’s contained in the white paper, it’s worth noting the list of contributors almost all have a vested interest in seeing EV demand grow, especially in the commercial side of the market. In other words, any conclusions should be read with that slant in mind. Among those contributors is Calstart, a “clean transportation technology” company; National Grid, a British multinational electricity and gas utility company; and RMI, which it says “transforms the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all.”

The thing many media outlets latched onto from the executive summary was that some electric truck stops would at times use as much electricity as a “small town.” That was never elaborated on, which piqued my interest. Just how much juice would these things draw? And what will it take to generate all that electricity?

In Item 3 of the executive summary is a bomb media outlets somehow skipped over: “While the potential benefits of managed charging and load management require further research, the study’s results indicate a need for power well beyond the distribution system’s typical limits.”

The big drive of this study is to push for beefing up electricity infrastructure to these future EV truck stops so there aren’t hiccups further down the road. In advocating for that, the authors let on to the very thing so many EV advocates try to deny: our current power grids aren’t nearly up to snuff for an EV revolution.

As the executive summary notes: “larger transmission interconnections and upgrades can take as long as 8 years to construct.” In other words, increasing the flow of electricity in a grid that’s overloaded could be a years-long process. I’m sure there are many factors affecting that, but it’s concerning to realize a mass switch to EVs could trigger many problems.

After you get past the executive summary, you get into the methodology of the study. You certainly can read it for yourself, and I would encourage you to do so if you’re inclined. Basically, the people who put this together made several assumptions about the future of EVs, electricity generation, technological development, and other factors which were based on others’ models, forecasts, and assumptions. In other words, the conclusions drawn should be taken with a grain of salt, although they still provide some rather interesting insights.

You also learn this study only looks at potential sites in a specific part of New York and Massachusetts. So many journalists have tried making it sound like it applies to all over the country. However, there are many rugged, remote areas in the West, let alone other parts of the 48 states which would require far more than in this fairly developed, civilized section of the country.

Further into the study it digs a little more into the statement about some truck stops requiring as much electricity as a small town. It elaborates, saying at peak demand it might be as much electricity usage as what an industrial manufacturing complex requires. For most people that doesn’t clear things up, although a lot of people have the vague sense that’s a hell a lot of juice.

On page 15 of the white paper we start getting some cold, hard numbers instead of just statements of vagueness. A “large passenger/truck stop” would likely need “about 10 megawatts (MW)… charging capacity required by 2030.” That seems like a lot of electricity, but just wait, it gets better.

Under a section called “Combined Results” on page 31, the study says: “The results show that as soon as 2030, over a quarter of the 71 sites studied are expected to require charging capacity beyond this threshold—some sites could reach almost 40 MW of charging capacity by 2045, a level of power equivalent to that demanded by a major manufacturer.” So this is what the statements about “a small town” and “an industrial manufacturing complex” mean.

But then I wanted to compare the electricity usage of these truck stops to your average residential customer in the country. After all, we’re constantly told we need to find ways to cut back our usage not only to “save the planet” but also to not overload the grid during high-demand hours.

I started digging and found on energyusage.com that “the average electricity customer in Phoenix, AZ is using 1,750 kWh of electricity per month, and 21,000 kWh over the course of the year.” Since I know we here in Phoenix use a lot of power running the AC during our absolutely killer summers, I figured our usage would be on the high end.

That assumption was confirmed by this bit of information I found on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s website: “In 2021, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,632 kilowatthours (kWh), an average of about 886 kWh per month. Louisiana had the highest annual electricity consumption at 14,302 kWh per residential customer, and Hawaii had the lowest at 6,369 kWh per residential customer.” While we in Phoenix use much more electricity than the average residence nationally, surprisingly Louisiana has us beat. Maybe it’s the combination of running AC, dehumidifier, and sump pump(s) for much of the year.

Either way you cut it, these EV truck stops are drawing a hell of a lot of electricity. How will this affect keeping the lights on at home, literally? That’s the question few seem willing to openly ask.

A couple more noteworthy statements made in this study:

– The authors admit that extreme temperatures negatively affect EV range by a considerable amount, so they “may need 40%-60% more electricity to travel the same distance in cold weather as in warm weather” (page 9). I’ve been told by EV advocates temperatures barely affect EV driving range, if at all, something I already knew wasn’t true. But here we have a group which has everything to gain from the widespread adoption of EVs having the integrity to admit this truth.

– They also admit that building the EV charging infrastructure with only an eye for “short-term needs” will likely result in problems for refueling electric cars and trucks “which could frustrate drivers and negatively impact confidence in EV charging” (page 35). If you just look at how the government manages road construction, you quickly realize it doesn’t plan that far into the future. Bureaucrats are notoriously shortsighted. Expect a breakdown of the charging infrastructure as demand grows.

Photos via Tesla, Volvo Trucks, Freightliner

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