Shore power
If you want to eliminate idling, all you have to do is "plug in"

Global positioning satellite, on-board computers, satellite radio, collision avoidance systems, night vision and more … This is a short list that showcases how advanced the trucking industry has become. Or has it? 

“Yes and no,” smiles Brian Lawrence, manager, heavy-duty truck for Xantrex Technology, a company that provides mobile power solutions to truck OEMs and aftermarket buyers with inverter/chargers and shore power connections. “In my opinion, there’s one thing missing, and it’s something that dates back to the 18th century — it’s AC power. 

“We use electricity everyday — at home and in the office,” Lawrence continued. “It’s even used in virtually all modes of mobile transportation — RVs use it and so do boaters through ‘shore power.’ But, unbelievably enough, shore power is missing in the trucking industry. The trucking community still depends upon battery power and idling the truck’s engine to run its loads, even though an environmentally and cost-effective alternative is available.”

If AC power were made available at truckstops, the need to idle a truck in the winter would become a thing of the past, claims Lawrence. “Run an extension cord from your cab and plug in a space heater; it’s as simple as that,” he said. “If you idled for 8 hours, you’d typically burn more than 8 gallons of fuel. To put it into perspective, if you didn’t idle, you’d increase your tractor’s mpg from 6.5 to 7.2. The difference in fuel economy is going up your exhaust stack to keep you warm. We say, use electricity. It’s cheaper and better for the environment.

“If you want to take it a step further,” continues Lawrence, “buy an inverter/charger and shore power package (available as an option through most truck OEMs and as an aftermarket item from most truck dealers). With it, you can heat your cab/sleeper with a ceramic (800-watt) space heater, plus run AC devices such as microwaves, TVs and VCRs without drawing down battery power when connected to shore power. With 15 amps of AC power, you just have to pick and choose which devices you want to run at the same.”

To put a full package AC-power infrastructure on a truck would cost about $2,500. That’s allowing about $1,500 for a Xantrex inverter/charger installed either OEM or aftermarket and about $1,000 to install Dometic’s Cab Comfort (7-amp) HVAC system. In addition to allowing idle elimination, this combination also serves up some great driver comfort (the ability to run AC devices including microwaves, entertainment systems, laptops, etc.). What’s more, when the inverter/charger is used with shore power, it recharges the batteries … a good thing that extends battery life. 

What about summertime heat? “There’s an AC power solution for that too,” points out Lawrence. “You don’t see Winnebagos idling in the summer to run an engine driven HVAC system do you? Instead, they ‘plug in’ and run their AC-powered HVAC system. Commercial systems are available now and they’re not that expensive. You don’t have to idle to stay cool.”

So, what’s holding things up and why is the trucking industry the last mobile group to utilize electricity? According to George Strickland, director of engineering and construction for Travel Centers of America, it’s a matter of demand, or lack thereof. 

“I strongly believe that truckstop electrification makes sense,” Strickland says. “But, for the longest time, truckstop electrification has been a chicken and egg problem. Truckstops have been reluctant to offer power because they haven’t had demand from fleets and owner-operators; conversely, fleets haven’t made the demand because truckstops didn’t offer electrical hookups. And OEMs, until recently, haven’t offered shore power infrastructure in their trucks. Putting in power at truckstops is not cheap — we can’t afford to make the investment unless we know there is demand. That’s why we’ve been unwilling to go ‘first.’” 

Dave McClure, marketing director for Petro, says his company has always had an open ear to driver and fleet needs and is willing to explore truckstop electrification, if asked. “We have a partnership with fleets, so if they come to us with a request, we’ll listen,” he says. “If they say ‘we’re going to have shore power on 20 percent of our fleet and we’re looking to you to provide plug-ins,’ then we’ll respond. We just have to know there is an economic return to the significant investment that electrification of our parking lots would require. With fuel margins so depressed, we can’t afford to offer shore power as another free truckstop amenity.”

According to Lawrence, each group has been waiting for the other to make the first move. “The dominos are starting to tip over, and we feel electrification is close at hand. But the key to making it ultimately happen is demand. Fleets need to come together and tell truckstops they want AC power. And, owner-operators need to band together and make the same request. Bottom line: If you want it, you have to ask for it. Truckstops won’t provide shore power unless they know you’re going to plug in.”

The Cost of Idling
According to Argonne National Laboratory, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), trucks idle away more than 838 million gallons of fuel annually. Price tag: More than $1 billion per year. What’s more, the DOE estimates that idling trucks emit more than 10.4 million tons of carbon dioxide, 59,000 tons of oxides from nitrogen, and 97,000 tons of carbon monoxide every year. That’s the emission equivalent of removing 15.5 million cars from the highways.

To put it into perspective on a per-truck basis, a truck that idles six hours a night for a five-day work week translates to six months of continuous idling, over three years. The amount of fuel consumed in those three years? About 4,680 gallons. Cost at $1.20 per gallon is $5,616. NOx emitted? 4,212 pounds.

How much would electricity cost?
Electric power is the cheapest form of energy for running on-board systems. A typical truck would draw 72 cents worth of power per night (6 hours of power using the national average for the cost of electricity). “Truckstops would have to charge for power,” says Strickland. No one has put in a fully-electrified truckstop so the price has yet to be determined. 

“And the cost of power would have to be dovetailed in with the installation of power — our cost for putting in the service,” says Strickland. “Still, the cost to truckers would be significantly less than idling and they’d be doing a favor to the environment.” Also, the cost is likely to be driven down by utility, EPA and clean air support.