One Energy is a Utility 2.0 company that sits between the consumer and the utility company. The company installs on-site, behind-the-meter, wind energy systems. It recently unveiled its first 30-megawatt battery-electric truck charging site, located in Findlay, Ohio.
Because it's more agile than a utility company, One Energy can make projects happen fast. On one of its recent ventures, One Energy went from shovels in the ground to flipping the proverbial switch in just eight months.
HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park spoke with One Energy CEO Jereme Kent on a recent episode of HDT Talks Trucking. Kent spoke about the benefits of supplementing grid energy with renewables and how private-sector partnerships could accelerate the build-out of the infrastructure needed to transition trucking from fossil fuels to electric. This Q&A features highlights from that interview. You can watch the full episode here.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
HDT: What's the difference between Energy One and a utility company? In the traditional model, various public utility commissions regulate electricity production and distribution. Is Energy One outside that model?
Kent: If you want to have a little fun, ask my regulatory attorneys if we're a utility or not. The clear answer, though, is we are not a public utility, which is what kicks you into the regulation portion in most states. It's a fine nuance.
We do not have a certified territory where a customer has to use us like a traditional utility does. Every one of our customers chooses to work with us, but we are never their sole source of power. They're still connected to another utility.
We insert ourselves between the traditional utilities and the customers to do what the customer wants. If you don't want to deal directly with your utility, if you want access to higher voltage or more complicated things, or even want to make your own power on-site, we can do all of that for you. The key distinction is because we don't have a monopoly, we aren't regulated. And every project we do only serves one industrial site at a time.
HDT: You recently completed a 30-megawatt battery-electric truck charging site with capacity to charge nearly 100 trucks. It's located in Findlay, Ohio. Why Findlay? It's not exactly a hotbed of battery-electric vehicle activity at this point.
Kent: You're absolutely right; it's not a hotbed of battery-electric vehicle activity. But it is a hotbed of trucking and distribution.
Findlay is located on I-75, a major north/south artery, and not far from I-80/90 running east and west. It's a major manufacturing center with like 15 regional distribution centers of different sizes, all located here. Findlay has two very important things going for it: It has a lot of trucks, and it has a lot of big industrial transmission lines.
What we have found is that instead of chasing all the incentives out in California, following mandates, that if you look at cheap land, cheap power, and a whole lot of trucking, you actually can make a case for electric semis working here right now. So that's what we did.
We have no intention of chasing incentives; we've never done that as a company. Let's just go see if this actually works. And what we've shown in the tests that we've done is that this can be competitive. It's not quite on par with diesel yet, but it's getting really close. And if you start getting some scale to this, the hope is that when manufacturers get the price of those trucks down just a little bit more, you're there — without mandates.
HDT: The battery-electric truck people will tell you that battery-electric trucks don't work really well in the winter. Are you facing an uphill challenge to get the trucking industry to come into your area because of the seasonal swings in range?
Kent: Candidly, we don't know. There's not a lot of really good data about real-world operation of electric trucks. There are some very good data sets from some very warm ports, but if you start looking at the over-the-road type vehicles, there isn't a lot of good data.
That said, we've been surprised by some things we've seen. The trucks perform far better on local city routes than on longer mid-range routes. We've seen exceptional performance beyond what we estimated in some cases. We're still learning.
If all you're doing is electric trucks in California, you haven't really solved the big problem.
HDT: Given your locational along the I-75 corridor — a little ways south of Toledo and about a third of the way between Toledo and Dayton — could you build another depot somewhere on the other side of Dayton and have literally a corridor where trucks could do round trips with a top up charge somewhere?
Kent: I could conceivably build a number of these. While I have no announcements to make at this time, we are absolutely looking forward to seeing what the Midwest can do with charging and we think this can be done a whole lot faster than it can other places.
HDT: Where does Ohio get its electric capacity from?
Kent: Ohio is primarily a coal state that is becoming a natural gas state and it's lagging most of the country in renewables. We have found there's some push to do more renewables coming organically, but the candid reality is that Ohio is a coal state that's becoming a gas state.
When you talk about renewables or even traditional sources of energy, there are problems with all of them. We have to figure out what the trade-offs are.
It's funny, if a customer of ours is getting 40, or 50, or 70% of their power from on-site renewables, someone always points out that they are still on the grid. Yes, they are, but they are 40 or 50 or 70% better than before.
You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to get all the way at once. If everybody just figured out how to do 50% better, we'd all be in much better shape overall.
HDT: Considering your charging hub concept, the trucks come to you to be charged. The question is, can you get the power to them?
Kent: I think you just hit the nail on the head. The biggest fundamental change that's going to happen in the trucking industry as it electrifies is that everyone's going to realize that every truck depot, every distribution center, and every truck fuel station is in the wrong place.
What I think is going to happen, and what the thesis of our megawatt hubs is, is that it doesn't have to be on-site. Your truckers don't have to report to your distribution center first thing in the morning. They can report a mile or two away, pick up their truck, or pick up their truck and trailer, and either get started or come over to you.
If you can put a charging hub in the middle of 10 or 15 distribution centers all within a few miles of one another, you have a tremendous concentration where it works. The right strategically placed hubs are what allow this to get started. Yes, overall, it adds minutes to the work shift. While I really would prefer not to add minutes to the drivers' day, it does simplify things.
Here's the problem: Most distribution centers are served by between one and three megawatts, enough to deal with the current on-site loads. Now, take a single Tesla Semi that can charge up to a megawatt. Now imagine you have 20 trucks at your DC. That load will take down the next 10 DCs. The problem is the scale. Those facilities were never built with charging 20 trucks a day in mind.
High-voltage transmission lines are the pipelines of the future. Do we, or can we, electrify every DC and truck depot, or do we centralize the charging hubs in areas with existing logistics operations?
Dealing with utility companies and high-voltage distribution lines is not something truckers are used to. I want to make it super simple for trucking companies so they can say, look, I want to buy six trucks, I want one island, I want these chargers, and I don't want to think about anything else. Can you give me a fixed rate to do this? The answer is yes, we can.
I sat for years on the board of economic development in Hancock County where Findlay is located. I love all of the trucking companies, all the distribution companies that are here. But as a power guy, I never had a reason to talk to the trucking guys. We didn't have a lot of overlap other than they delivered the parts for us.
Now, all of a sudden, their entire industry and one of our biggest, biggest growth segments are the same thing. All of these power companies should be talking to logistics companies and DCs asking, how can we work together?
HDT: Do you see that facility in Findlay, or one like it, as a traditional sort of truck stop, where the truck on its route from Toledo to Cincinnati would stop there for a period, pick up a partial or full charge and then continue with the run?
Kent: I think when you have a network of these, absolutely. [But] I don't think that's why you build them. You build them for the people who are based there who have the certainty of the out and back routes, the 12-hour shifts, and the predictability.
Until you have 20 charging hubs, you don't have the kind of network you need. But once you have the network, you better believe that people will start saying, okay, I can now run a route down I-75 because I have multiple places to charge and I can optimize the rest of my routes. At that point, those world-class logistics companies will apply their software and optimize the heck out of it.