Bottom Line
Power to the people?
Anti-idling laws and fuel consumption concerns are forcing tangible development of idling alternatives. Looming huge on the horizon is the world of AC power, old to everyone else, new to trucking.

by Paul Abelson, technical editor

According to EPA’s Summary of State Anti-Idling Regulations, dated February of this year, 20 states have enacted anti-idling regulations. Additionally, municipalities like New York City have their own regulations.

Whether for clean air, noise abatement or revenue enhancement, all are increasing their enforcement.

Because the need is emerging, truckstops and equipment suppliers are taking the lead in developing alternatives to idling. Unfortunately, preliminary research indicates neither owner-operators nor fleets are very interested in finding or using the alternatives.

Perhaps interest will grow as operators face fines up to $500 per incident. Educational efforts by the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the grassroots Diesel Idling Reduction Partnership ( show that by using alternatives to idling, operators can save from $2,000 to $3,400 per year. The industry recognizes this. Truckstops and highway departments are starting to electrify parking areas to capitalize on the coming need.

While most owner-operators have not yet equipped their trucks with idle-reduction devices, there is a growing segment that strongly favors truckstop electrification and the wiring of trucks to take advantage of it.

In a recent survey conducted by industry suppliers Xantrex Technology, Dometic and Phillips & Temro, an overwhelming 93 percent of owner-operators volunteering to participate said they wanted shore power to operate heating and air-conditioning units.

A major problem for truckstop operators is trying to determine who will pay for which features.

“With IdleAire, which we are testing,” says Travel Centers of America’s George Strickland, “there are many added features (see sidebar) and we’re not sure who will be willing to pay for services beyond the heat and air conditioning. We’re not the consumer. We can’t put anything in until our customers want it.

“As for shore power,” he said, “until there’s a high enough density of trucks with a demand for power, we can’t put it in. We can’t put in a half-million dollar investment (in infrastructure) to charge only $2 a night. T/A has been looking at this since 1997, and not much has changed since then. We’re ready to go, but there has to be a demand first.”

As George pointed out, “Fleets may be willing to pay for heating and air conditioning to give drivers an alternative to idling, but will they (the fleets) pay $10 a night to provide cable TV, Internet service or telephones?”

Most owner-operators and many fleet drivers already have creature comforts, such as television, VCRs or DVDs, refrigerators and microwaves in their trucks. They can be powered by shore power, generator sets or auxiliary power units (APUs) or by batteries, either conventional starting batteries or deep cycle types made specifically to stand up to repeated long discharge cycles.

Xantrex is the leading manufacturer of inverters. They convert 12-v (or 24-v) direct current from batteries to 120-v household alternating current. Xantrex also makes inverter-chargers that will either convert battery current or recharge batteries when connected to shore power. They developed a system that provides electronically-driven heating and air conditioning whether the engine is on or off and whether or not there is shore power.

According to Brian Lawrence, “The system provides on-board 120 v for cooling and heating. There is a package that uses either four or six deep cycle batteries in a second battery box. We tested the system with the air conditioner at maximum and both a TV and a laptop computer running for eight hours. The system ran our 2,500-watt inverter at its full load. The heater and air conditioner each draw 1,000 watts in continuous operation.”

According to Lawrence, “The batteries weigh 50 pounds each, the inverter is about 50 pounds and the heater/air conditioner is 100 pounds. Add 50 pounds for the battery box, and a six-battery system — good for up to eight hours continuous engine-off service — will weigh about 500 pounds. The new energy bill in Congress calls for offsetting weight exemptions of up to 400 pounds for idling-reduction devices, so weight shouldn’t be a major problem.

“When we can produce the system in commercial quantities, we should be able to bring the whole thing in for $3,000, maybe less. Compared to our probable competition (IdleAire), we offer the opportunity to own rather than rent. Once payback is realized, our system adds to profits while with the other unit, the money is always going out, never coming in.”

Recharging the Xantrex system should not be a problem in summer, but cold batteries do not accept a charge well. With the batteries sitting out in the cold, using battery power for heat may present a challenge.

Combining electrically driven air conditioning with a low-amperage-draw, fuel-fired air heater, Bergstrom’s NITE (No-Idle Thermal Environment) system efficiently keeps drivers comfortable year round.

Bergstrom Director of Marketing Joe Nett commented, “The NITE system is independent of the engine, driven by its own rechargeable battery. Measuring 22 by 16 by 11 inches, the air conditioner weighs 70 pounds. It features a variable speed compressor. Power is 12-volt direct current. The power source measures 10.5 by 14.5 by 11.5 inches high, and weighs 132 pounds. The fuel-fired heater measures 12.7 by 5.1 by 4.8 inches and adds 8 pounds.”

Cabs need not have special batteries to operate 120-v devices if shore power is available and the truck is wired to take advantage of the current. Phillips & Temro designed the Cab Power kit to provide everything needed for a safe, efficient shore power (120-v) installation.

According to National Fleet Manager Greg Stattine, “Cab Power includes wiring, surface-mount outlets and receptacles, a weatherproof cable TV and telephone connector and all hardware. The system is protected by a main circuit breaker, and, for absolute safety, it has a ground fault circuit interrupter.”

Cab Power can be either factory installed or added as an aftermarket item.

The supplier community is ready for truckstop electrification. Of that there is no doubt. I believe the question is not whether it will come, but how soon.

That may depend on how soon communities enforce anti-idling regulations. Obviously, facing fines of $100 to $500 per night will accelerate the demand for all idle-reduction devices. It will depend on what drivers are willing to pay, because high investment costs of electrification must be paid for. It will depend on how you operate. If you overnight at shippers and receivers or at truck-friendly shopping centers, truckstop electrification won’t help you, but other devices will.

But whether it takes two years or five, the industry will no longer accept unlimited idling, and that is when electrification will take hold.

Paul Abelson can be reached at