New technology often spawns new business opportunities, and that's the case with WattEV, a Long Beach, California fleet participating in the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s Run on Less Electric-Depot study.
ROL-E Depot is a year-long study by NACFE analysts studying real-world battery-electric truck use and infrastructure issues. The goal is to help North American fleets begin to transition to battery-electric trucks by conveying lessons learned by fleets in the study.
According to CEO Salim Youssefzadeh, WattEV was created to help the trucking industry in and around the Long Beach ports transition to battery-electric heavy trucks. Initially, the business plan was for the new company to be a major player supplying badly needed electric truck charging infrastructure to fleets in the area. But that concept quickly changed in ways Youssefzadeh and his team could never have predicted.
“We started out with the idea of building out truck-charging infrastructure in strategically smart locations,” he said in a NACFE video profiling WattEV operations in Long Beach. “We started with the idea of if you build it, they will come.
"But we very quickly realized that we can’t just build and not have the demand generate naturally. That’s when we started looking at electric trucks-as-a-service concept and how we can sort of prime the market and really accelerate the transition by bringing both the infrastructure and the trucks to help both the shippers and the carriers meet their sustainability goals.”
Youssefzadeh said the hurdles facing fleets that want to go electric are many. They must wrestle with the fact that new electric trucks can cost as much as four times more than a conventional diesel truck. Then there are a myriad of complicated infrastructure design and installation issues that must be worked out. And all that has to happen long before fleets can even begin to consider where, how long and how often they’ll be able to charge trucks.
“That’s when we came up with truck-as-a-service concept,” he explained. “We’ve tested this. We ourselves have tested the route. We can then go to the carriers and say, ‘We know we can take an electric truck from the port to base with charging on both sides.’”
In this TaaS model, WattEV provides the the electric trucks, charging, maintenance and insurance all at a fixed price per month.
Life in the Charging Fast Lane
Perhaps the biggest barrier to greater use of electric trucks nationwide has been the almost complete lack of charging infrastructure needed to support them. Taking an active hand in that aspect of electric fleet operations is a key component of WattEV’s business model.
“When you look at the infrastructure, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes,” Youssefzadeh said. “Underground, there’s at least four conduits going to each dispenser and another three that go from the power cabinet to the dispenser itself. So that’s a tremendous amount of conduit work that goes into the civil and electrical portion of this.”
It's key to "future-proof" your site, urges Will Stearns, civil engineer and product manager for Cleantek, which provided turnkey design and build services for WattEV’s Long Beach facility.
“Installing a conduit that is large enough to be a future-proof availability is really important," Stearns explains. "Because swapping out chargers with the conduit already there is just pulling the wire. It’s much easier than having to put new conduit in.”
According to Stearns, phase I of the Long Beach facility is set up with 13 dual-cord 360-kW CCS chargers. All told, the system generates approximately 5 MW of power capable of charging 26 trucks at the same time.
This includes a megawatt dispenser, set up in what WatttEV calls a “Fast Charging Lane,” configured for quick, easy access by trucks. Stearns said the megawatt charger delivers about 1,200 kW of power, which is capable of reducing a two- to three-hour truck charging time down to about 30- to 45-minutes.
Umar Javed, president and co-founder of WattEV, said the fast-charging lanes are set up for trucks that need a quick power boost during the day.
"Trucks will still come in for regular charging,” he explained, “because megawatt charging may not be necessary all the time. They can come in with the trailer, and pull right in, hook up the cord, and within 30 minutes, they’re done and can move on with their load.”
Efficient, Productive and Emissions-Free
In order to make each truck and each trip as efficient and productive as possible, WattEV has also been matching with freight on the way back through the Uber Freight platform. The goal is to make sure that the trucks are never running empty.
“I think this space is so new and interesting that we don’t necessarily have to have everything figured out,” Chinmay Jaju, Uber Freight's head of sustainability, told NACFE. “We’re still very much in pilot and scale phase. There are things we’re learning at pilot that we’re going to be able to figure out at scale. And there’s things we’re only going to learn at scale that we’re going to have to solve with technology at scale to really make this work.”
“The shippers are the ones who are going to push this," said Bruce Kurtt, senior VP, sales and commercial operations, Nikola. “The shippers are looking for their Scope One, Two or Three emissions. And the shipper, in lieu of building a new assembly plant or manufacturing plant, they can have their trucking company show up with zero tailpipe emissions, which allows them to get to their Scope Three goals. So, it’s a quick way for a shipper to hit their California Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals.”
On top of that, Kurtt added, the electric truck business model is simply a good fit for the way many local, and regional fleets already operate with diesel trucks.
“There are so many that return to base like this and go less than 300 miles a day,” Kurtt said. “So, because of that, their model fits a whole segment of the industry, which is really what the drivers want, anyway. They want this job because they get to come home.”
All of which is why Youssefzadeh is excited about WattEV’s future.
“We already have 50 other sites we control over,” he said. “This take us all the way up to Northern California, towards the border with Mexico and along the I-10 corridor towards Arizona.
"But we don’t want to just stop in California. We know it takes a lot more of a nationwide approach. We are also looking at expanding to the East Coast, and also to Oregon and other states that are following the trend of going toward zero emissions.”