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Quebec study finds EV transition cost-effective in short-haul operations

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Many carriers can start saving money today by transitioning to electrification slowly, one truck at a time, said Philippe Louisseize, project manager of electrification at Innovative Vehicle Institute, and Charles Trudel, the institute’s technological applications group manager, during the EV & Charging Expo on May 2 in Toronto.

Louisseize and Trudel presented data from the Plug-In Fleet study, conducted by the Saint-Jérôme, Que.-based Innovative Vehicle Institute (IVI). It has revealed that a quarter of the Quebec fleet’s trucks included in the study are suitable to be electrified overnight, and another quarter is electrifiable through operational adjustments.

The study highlighted that electric trucks are up to the challenge of Canadian winters, showing an average 30% drop in range during winter, a promising sign for year-round reliability.

Left to right: Philippe Louisseize and Charles Trudel (Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

The project has also revealed that 50-kW charges are sufficient for local short-haul deliveries, and battery weight in trucks has not proven to be a problem for carriers.

The data from the Plug-In Fleet project collected information from 60 diesel trucks (16 straight trucks and 44 semi-tractors) across 20 fleets during the second phase of the study, analyzing more than 800,000 km of combined traveled distance to assess the potential for electrification.

Later, during the third phase, five local Quebec fleets were selected for a trial stage, where participants were provided with electric trucks to use for a month at different times of the year to get first-hand experience. Data was collected through telematics and driver experience surveys.

Electrification feasibility

Out of the 60 trucks assessed in the second phase of the study, 62% of straight trucks and 58% of tractors were not ready for electrification, as the transition would require significant modifications or larger batteries that are not yet available in the market.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the fleets’ equipment (19% of straight trucks and 27% of tractors) examined were deemed to be ready for electrification without major adaptations. The assessment accounted for factors like range, payload, and route characteristics. But Trudel said the requirements to be deemed EV-ready were of a high standard.

“We kept really severe criteria. A green light is where a truck is likely to be swapped overnight with an EV and it would work seamlessly.”

(Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

And 19% and 15% of straight trucks and tractors, respectively, were placed in the yellow readiness zone, meaning that trucks may require some adaptations or optimizations for electrification. The changes might require merging shorter routes for multiple trucks, creating routes with closer stops, and adding charging stations at the trucks’ recurring stops.

Electrification-suitable sectors

IVI’s data shows that the dry goods transportation sector (TL, LTL) shows high potential for electrification due to generally lighter loads and shorter routes, while bulk goods, liquids and forestry sector face significant challenges due to the high weights involved in the transportation process and the long distances traveled, making currently available electric truck models unsuitable.

Longhaul operations remain challenging for electrification without significant advancements in battery technology for now, while shorter routes like pendulum operations — where trucks consistently travel back and forth between two fixed points (and sometimes can charge at the third location) — are considered a great fit for electrification.

It is unclear if transport refrigeration units (TRU) are suitable for electrification in the future. IVI concluded TRUs are not currently fit for electrification due to added weight and lack of electric TRUs available in the market.

Electrification: Checklist & benefits

To know if an existing vehicle qualifies for electrification, fleet managers can assess it by several criteria, IVI suggests. The criteria include running less than 200 km per day, vehicle returning to base at night after the runs, and hauling dry box goods, with low or medium payloads. Ideally, the operations would have limited highway driving, running one shift daily, or several pendulum operations with charging opportunities.

Philippe Louisseize, IVI’s project manager of electrification. (Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

“If you don’t tick all these boxes, it’s not a lost cause – you might still be in the yellow zone and you just have to see what’s the adaptation required to make it work,” says Louisseize. “So, it becomes a choice between waiting or optimizing. If you’re in the yellow, you can wait basically until the technology adapts to your operations. Or you can optimize. In other words, you can start your journey, start experimenting and start – most likely – saving money right now.”

The study found that trucks transitioning to electric can expect significant savings in fuel costs, potentially saving nearly $200,000 in around 10 years, depending on the distance driven annually. From those electrification-ready trucks (without adaptation needs) examined in the second phase of the study, IVI calculated an average ROI of 2.5 to seven years.

Meanwhile, the fastest environmental break-even point in the study — where an electric truck becomes cleaner than its diesel counterpart — was reached at three months, while the longest was recorded at 13 months.

Weather conditions

In the final stage of the research, dealers lent trucks to local Quebec fleets for four weeks of testing. Each fleet had a 50-kW DC fast-charging station installed on site, and IVI collected data 24/7 – from payload on each trip to driver feedback and more.

Local LTL carrier, Inter Nord, tested a Freightliner eCascadia, traveling 185 km daily in summer conditions on a stable route.

“The truck would come back every night with 45%-52% battery left,” said Louisseise. “One day he went as far as 303 km, he did trailer switches, which were heavier, actually – it was not a normal route. And he came back at night with 78% used battery.”

IVI’s graph displays charging trends for electric trucks (Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

Cascades, a TL carrier, tested out the Peterbilt 579EV model, travelling on a 7-km long pendulum route each shift in fall conditions, in weather averaging from -5C to 20C. The company drove 1,771 km in four weeks with $972 in electricity costs.

The charging station, however, was set at the third location. Since it added a layer of traveling to the location separate from the main operational route, the company would require more frequent or faster charging to handle back-to-back shifts. Trudel explained that a higher-powered charger would adversely affect the total cost of ownership.

Cold weather and snowstorms

The third trial involved Smart Transport, an LTL same-day delivery company, driving a Lion6 straight truck in winter with temperatures averaging between -15C to 15C. Dynamic route dispatching allowed it to adapt routes to EV capabilities, and the truck has driven 2,792 km with $316 in electricity costs. Charging power was reduced to 30 kW to save costs. Their charging time averaged four hours, and there was no impact on operations.

“Smart Transportation went on and bought a Lion6 truck a few weeks after the trial. So that’s a huge success story for us,” Trudel added.

The last company that completed its trial is Sleeman Brewery which distributed its beer in side- and back-load trailers with built-in Moffetts. It operated a Kenworth truck, driving almost 2,000 km, paying roughly $1,000 for electricity with a maximum charging time reaching seven hours. Even though the trial was conducted in the spring, the team encountered a snowstorm during one of the deliveries.

(Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

On a regular day, the truck demonstrated a consistent range of about 190-200 km, starting with a full battery. This range was adequate for the brewery’s daily operations under normal weather conditions. On the snowstorm day, however, the driver got stuck in the snow twice, and the range dropped to 125 km.

Seasonality trends

Based on the data collected from all four electric trucks during the trial, in winter, the average electric truck range drops by 30% to 250 km. However, five to 10 days a week, when Quebec experienced snowstorms during IVI’s trial run, the range dropped 45%, to 200 km. On such snowy days, fleets can replace electric vehicles with diesel as a workaround, IVI suggests.

However, driving range in spring and fall reached 350 km an ddeclined slightly (to 300 km) in ‘best’ winter conditions of above 0C.

Only 5% of drivers in the trial had to stop for charging duty during their shift every day.(Photo: Krystyna Shchedrina)

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