Calculating the cost of electric heavy-duty truck charging

As Midwest manufacturers work to electrify heavy-duty vehicles, a big challenge remains: how to charge them. 

The trucking industry makes up about one-quarter of the country’s transportation emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Equipment manufacturers including Illinois-based Navistar have developed, or are in the process of developing, commercial electric vehicles to reduce this impact. Charging stations that serve commercial vehicles are starting to pop up in places like Michigan, and five states formed the Regional Electric Vehicle Midwest Coalition last year to accelerate vehicle electrification and charging infrastructure development, especially for fleets.

Yet high battery prices and sparse EV charging infrastructure are significant barriers to greater commercial EV truck adoption. And heavy-duty truck chargers must be more powerful than conventional passenger vehicle chargers, which can come at an extra cost. A group of researchers in Illinois released a study detailing the long-term costs of setting up heavy-duty truck charging infrastructure.

Conditions and considerations

Collaborators from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory used computer models to calculate the cost of installing one heavy-duty truck charging station along Interstate 80, a major nationwide truck route that cuts east-west through the Midwest.

They determined that heavy-duty trucks require a 1-megawatt-hour battery. Charging via a standard EV charger would take about 10 hours, and ultrafast chargers could reduce the time to 5 hours. Because of truck drivers’ requirements for hours worked, miles traveled, and mandatory breaks, the most practical time to charge their vehicles is during long breaks — primarily overnight.

The Illinois researchers identified 20 potential truck charging locations at truck stops and rest stops along a 163-mile stretch of I-80 in Illinois that would meet the stated charging conditions. But constructing charging stations at these sites would require greater investments than just the chargers, they found. For example, the higher electrical load to charge trucks likely would require an on-site substation, and the chargers would need inverters to convert the voltage from alternating current to direct current. 

The researchers came up with installation costs for several scenarios for sites capable of powering 100 trucks simultaneously: 

  • The investment for one charging site is more than $21 million. 
  • The 20-year cost is more than $100 million.
  • The cost for a solar-powered charging site would be $82 million to $139 million.
  • A wind-powered charging site would be up to $75 million. 
  • A nuclear-powered station would be $141 million.

Why it matters

The researchers launched this study to raise awareness of some “difficult parts” of transportation electrification. They say transportation companies and electric utilities should have installation and operating costs on their radar to figure out funding strategies.
“Making this transition to electrification is going to be expensive, and we wanted to estimate those costs so we can start thinking about who pays for it,” Robert Rosner, University of Chicago professor, said in a news release. “We hope that these numbers help start the conversation.”