Cover Story
Game on
When idling prohibitions swept the country years ago just as fuel prices hit historic highs, truckers struggled to reduce the costs associated with idling.
There were few options – leaving many truckers suffering through the sweltering heat and freezing cold just to save money while playing by the rules.
Since then, manufacturers have stepped up to the plate and come up with an all-star lineup of technologies that are giving truckers the edge to play smart, play safe and play to win.

Drivers pulling their rigs into truck stops around the country for the night may encounter some sights and sounds they’re not used to.

The unfamiliar sight: trucks connected by what appear to be heavy-duty electrical cords to pedestals mounted next to parking spaces.

The unfamiliar sound: Quiet.

Those pedestals represent an idle-reduction technology known as plug-in power, shorepower or truck stop electrification. The quiet is the sound of trucks plugged in to electricity to run in-cab comfort and convenience appliances instead of idling the engine or running a diesel-fired APU for hours every night.

Plug-in power arrived at dozens of truck stops in 2012. With a federally funded program known as the Shorepower Truck Electrification Project financing the installation of power pedestals, truckers are finding more places to connect to grid power in place of fuel-burning idling.

Under this program, the Department of Energy provided a grant funding commitment of $22.2 million for the development of approximately 1,250 electrified truck parking pedestals at 50 locations along the busiest freight movement corridors nationally, and approximately 5,000 idle reduction equipment rebates for qualifying upgrades.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” says Jeff Kim, president of Shorepower Technologies, the company providing the power pedestals for the STEP program. Cascade Sierra Solutions, a nonprofit organization, is administering the program. “Now it’s coming together – the truck stops equipped with the technology, the trucks set up to use plug-in power, and the owner-operators who are becoming familiar with it and how it can save them money.”

With the installation of plug-in power through STEP at truck stops from Washington to Kentucky, Iowa to Louisiana, Shorepower now has about two dozen sites around the country at which truckers can plug in. STEP is designed to add a total of 50 sites by the end of 2012 on major freight routes, including interstates 5, 10, 20, 70, 80, 90 and 95.

What Shorepower hopes to develop, through STEP and its own expansion plans in years ahead, is a network of sites on those heavily traveled routes, so that drivers can count on finding a plug-in site when they stop for their mandatory rest breaks. A prime example of such a network is the West Coast Corridor, where Shorepower is developing sites along I-5 and Highway 99 in California, Oregon and Washington that will be 40 to 200 miles apart.

Kim says Shorepower plans to have hundreds of sites and thousands of truck stop parking spaces in operation in the next five years. “We want plug-in power to be a standard part of a trucker’s travels,” he adds. “The way to do that is to build the sites – and awareness.”

Investors in shorepower technology believe that seeing the sites available will generate interest in and use of plug-in power. An even more compelling argument can be found, though, in the price of diesel fuel.

Plug-in power – 120 VAC, 208 VAC or 240 VAC power sources – as offered by Shorepower is priced at $1 an hour. Compare that with the national average for diesel, around $4 a gallon. Figure on a gallon of fuel an hour to idle a truck’s main engine, and the direct benefits to the wallet become immediately apparent.

There are some long-term financial benefits as well – lower maintenance and repair bills because of reduced wear and tear on the engine caused by idling.

Those aren’t the only benefits, though. Plug-in power cuts down on air emissions and noise, giving drivers, truck stop visitors and nearby communities a quieter, healthier environment. It also helps drivers comply with the dozens of state and local laws and ordinances limiting the hours and duration of idling, or banning it outright.

Plug-in power allows drivers to turn off the engine but still run in-cab heat and air systems as well as convenience and entertainment appliances. It also allows for recharging of battery systems while plugged in; some sites also include cable TV in the charge. A number of truck stops are also adding 460-volt/230-volt connections for trailer transport refrigeration units with standby electric-power options.

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Sounds great – provided you’ve got a truck set up to use plug-in power, right?

It’s neither difficult nor expensive to connect to the grid.

The most basic approach consists of little more than a heavy-duty extension cord run through the cab window, connecting the pedestal to an outlet strip inside, into which the driver can plug a space heater (properly set up for safe operation, of course) or other appliances.

At the other end of the spectrum are new trucks wired to seamlessly integrate plug-in power not just into the body of the truck (an outlet port on the cab’s exterior, convenient outlets distributed throughout the interior), but into heat and air systems as well as internal electrical systems.

There are a host of options in between. As part of STEP, Shorepower and Cascade Sierra Solutions are distributing free adapter kits, consisting of a receptacle for mounting on the exterior of the truck cab; a cab interior 120-volt AC outlet and wiring harness; an on-off switch; and a ground fault circuit interrupter. Truck owners pay for installation only.

The evolution of shorepower has also prompted an expansion of the traditional APU.

With its official launch in January 2011, the STEP project identified Hodyon, the developer and manufacturer of the Dynasys APU, as a STEP-approved rebate equipment supplier.

Dynasys’ diesel-electric APU works with plug-in power. The Dynasys APU offers 6kw of power, more than enough to support both heating and cooling needs along with other electrical appliances in the cab. The Dynasys APU available shorepower capabilities provides the additional flexibility of allowing the heat and air to be plugged into any 110-volt outlet and to work independently from the APU engine for optimum performance and fuel savings, with minimal noise. It is this shorepower option that allows the Dynasys APU to be compliant with the STEP idle-reduction equipment rebate program.

Aftermarket equipment manufacturers, meanwhile, now have on the market a wide range of options that can be installed on a truck to take advantage of plug-in power: auxiliary power units, battery powered heat and air systems, thermal storage and cold-plate systems, and eTRU units.

Idle-reduction systems that are compatible with plug-in power range in price from $200 installed for a simple adapter kit to $6,000 to $10,000 for APUs and to $25,000 for a single-temperature trailer refrigeration unit equipped to connect with grid power (up to $32,000 for multi-temperature units). The return on investment depends on how often vehicle owners use them in place of idling.  

One such manufacturer is Bergstrom Climate Control Systems, which makes the NITE (No-Idle Thermal Environment) APU.

Bill Gordon, vice president of aftermarket and NITE sales for Bergstrom, says fuel-powered APUs “have been the mainstay of the market in the past.” That’s changing, he says, with battery-powered anti-idle units becoming much more accepted. “This is due to improvements in capacity (BTUs) and run time that have been made possible by more efficient components and advances in the battery technology.”

As validation of that acceptance, Gordon adds, three major OEMs now offer a version of the Bergstrom NITE system as a factory installed option installed on the assembly line.

Battery-powered APUs work well with plug-in power, Gordon notes.

“Any NITE system, whether it’s aftermarket or factory installed, has an option for a battery charger and/or an inverter,” he says. “With the battery charger option and the shore power plug, the system can run virtually forever because the batteries are constantly being charged.”

Gordon expects popularity of idle-reduction plug-in-compatible systems to grow with more electrified parking spaces available at truck stops, and with coming regulations to give truckers a mileage credit for a number of fuel-saving devices installed on the truck.

Volvo Trucks is a longtime supporter of the concept of plug-in power, having offered plug-in-power compatible systems on its vehicles since 1996, says Skip Yeakel, principal engineer with the company. “It’s an option, but a very popular option, on our sleeper cabs,” he says.

The reason for that popularity, he adds, is clear. “I bet every trucker out there has electricity in his or her house,” he says. “Why would you not want to make life on the road as good as it is at home?”

Not surprisingly, he’s an advocate of factory-installed systems. Why install the wiring in a house after putting up the drywall? he asks. Having plug-in-ready systems will enhance the value of the truck at resale, he adds.

That will be especially true as truckers find more places to plug in. The widespread deployment of plug-in power at truck stops has “been a long time getting here,” Yeakel says, “but this latest effort should be the one to put it over the top.”

Seeing trucks plugged in, and not hearing them idle, may have been out-of-the-ordinary occurrences in the trucking industry, but with the pace of plug-in site rollouts this year, advocates of the technology say that’s changing rapidly.

Says Kim, “Maybe we can make idling the unusual event.”  LL 

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