SoCal Edison: Taking a Hands-On Approach to Running Battery-Electric Trucks

Even for an electric utility, converting to battery-electric trucks is no flip of a switch. At Southern California Edison, changing over from diesel to electric is a step-by-step process to determine how best to reduce harmful exhaust emissions from its commercial vehicles.

Rosemead, California-based SCE is steadily working toward the goals set by its parent, Edison International, to electrify 100% of its light-duty passenger vehicles, 60% of its forklifts, 30% of its medium-duty vehicles and pickup trucks, and 8% of its heavy-duty trucks by 2030.

Edison International estimates that by “pursuing its fleet electrification goals, it will save more than 620,000 gallons of fuel annually and eliminate close to 6,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.”

To electrify its fleet, SCE has installed more than 370 charge ports at its facilities and expects it will need some 1,300 more chargers to achieve the electrification goals by 2030. 

SCE is also installing charge ports for businesses to provide charging to cars. And it’s keeping the commercial-vehicle customer in mind as well. The utility plans to construct as many as 870 charging sites to serve medium- and heavy-duty truck and transit fleets.

A Three-Month Trial
To help hit its electrification goals, last November SCE took in a pre-production Freightliner eCascadia Class 8 battery-electric tractor from the truck maker’s Customer Experience (CX) Fleet to begin a three-month trial in the utility’s material-transport operations.

“SCE’s testing of the eCascadia is a major step down the path of achieving our company’s recently announced fleet electrification goals,” said Todd Carlson, principal manager of fleet asset management, who manages the company’s fleet of over 6,200 vehicles.

He said a Class 8 battery-electric truck could, over time, replace from 15 to 18 diesel-powered tractors used by SCE for heavy-material hauling. The trade cycle for this set of trucks is currently set at eight years. Other medium- and heavy-duty units that are candidates for electrification include crane, derrick and bucket trucks.

Carlson pointed out that SCE has served on the design team for the eCascadia for the last several years. “It’s nice to see our work and Freightliner’s work come to fruition with this product. One of our engineers was on the [design] committee, and we had input on such factors as battery location, wheelbases and whether to have an ePTO developed for outfitting work trucks.”

He noted that “it’s our privilege to test this pre-production unit, and it helps us with our planning.” The utility plans to test other electric heavy- and medium-duty trucks along with electric pickup trucks.

The eCascadia model is slated to enter production in 2022; the test units in the Freightliner CX Fleet are “early series development” trucks meant to test the integration of battery-electric vehicles into large-scale fleet operations, according to the truck maker.

Freightliner has stated that when the eCascadia enters full production, it is planned to provide up to 730 peak horsepower. Its batteries are expected to provide 550 kWh of usable capacity, which in turn would support an operating range up to 250 miles. Also, the batteries are expected to have the fast-charge capability to charge up to 80% – providing a range of 200 miles – in about 90 minutes. 

Hauling Heavy Equipment
At SCE, the test tractor is hauling heavy equipment, such as transformers, wire reels and switch gears, from the utility’s Irwindale, California, warehouse to its service centers and laydown yards. The 80,000-pound-GVW-rated tractor has a range of up to 250 miles per charge while towing typical loads for SCE.

Carlson said SCE is “seeing the quoted range of up to 250 miles is pretty close to our real-world experience, which for these trucks is a heavy load uphill, and an empty one downhill.”

To support the conversion of SCE’s material-transport fleet, a high-amperage DC fast-charging system has been installed outdoors at the Irwindale facility. “Most of our chargers will be low-amp,” Carlson advised, “to provide overnight end-of-shift charging.

“We’ve also already built the infrastructure needed to handle a dozen trucks charging at the same time,” he continued. “Overall, our plan is for most trucks to be charged overnight with low-amp chargers. The DC charger is to quickly charge a truck for a second shift. A fast-charging system is more expensive to install, and the charger itself is more expensive.”

Battery-electric trucks also boast the power of regenerative braking, which refers to the electric motor acting as a generator to convert much of the kinetic energy lost when decelerating into energy stored in the vehicle battery. As Carlson pointed out, that benefit comes most into play for trucks run in stop-and-go operations, such as refuse trucks. 

Training and Maintenance Considerations
Along with installing charging infrastructure, Carlson said it’s “safety-critical to provide drivers with training on how to operate these vehicles. The training is not time consuming for us, but it’s necessary to show there are some differences in how a battery-electric [truck] operates compared to a diesel-powered one.”

As for projections on the potential impact of battery-electric trucks on SCE’s maintenance operations, Carlson indicated it’s too early in the game to make any predictions. “We look forward to seeing how maintenance costs play out over the next decade,” he said. “To look at it conservatively, we assume those costs will be equal to those of a diesel truck.”

Carlson said that how often a truck’s battery pack may need to be replaced will be a key cost factor. “Would there be, say, one battery replacement on one out of 10 trucks?” Given such unknowns, he added that, “As of now, we want to give ourselves some room to move on maintenance costing.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

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