Powering the Clean Commercial Vehicles of Tomorrow – Lessons from the U.S. West Coast | 4/15/20

Author: Campbell Scott

As key global markets chart a course for a transportation and logistics sector that is increasingly powered by advanced zero-emission technologies, infrastructure will be a costly and complicated challenge, but also a critical opportunity.

So far, the development of infrastructure in the United States has largely kept up with the demands of the technology on the market. Most of the clean vehicle technologies now on the market involve low power or fuel requirements (light-duty cars) or return to their depots daily where they can recharge or refuel (bus and delivery truck). Consequently, zero-emission cars, buses, and medium-duty delivery trucks are becoming much more common sights on roads:  Tesla just built its one millionth vehicle, leading cities (such as NYC and LA) are transitioning their entire transit fleets to zero-emissions, and major logistics companies are trying out light- and medium-duty all-electric trucks and vans in advance of purchasing tens of thousands. The early and continuing uptake these vehicles has been predicated upon easy and low-cost access to charging infrastructure.

The success of new transportation and logistics technologies is closely tied to whether or not infrastructure that is plentiful and powerful enough to meet vehicle operators’ needs exists and is accessible. For the next waves of clean commercial vehicle deployments, existing infrastructure dynamics won’t meet the needs of many new technologies. Long haul and drayage trucks have significantly higher energy needs and will be traveling further away from their depots for days at a time. Accordingly, these vehicles will need dependable, fast, and plentiful fueling infrastructure along major transportation corridors to support their operations. Since supporting heavy-duty charging infrastructure will be spread across hundreds of miles, the development of this infrastructure will require thoughtful coordination between various stakeholders in different states, both private and public.

In the hopes of bridging this gap, CALSTART, in partnership with the West Coast Collaborative (WCC), has identified the needs, barriers and opportunities in creating the infrastructure to support an advanced technology commercial vehicle corridor along the West Coast. Through a series of working groups and survey outreach to fleets, government agencies, and fuel providers, CALSTART developed a replicable strategic plan to expand alternative fuel infrastructure in Oregon, Washington and California. The plan: 1) provides insight into deploying infrastructure to enable and catalyze near- or zero-emission travel and commerce across the entire West Coast and 2) evaluates the project readiness of the proposed sites from surveys and outreach.

Key findings from this plan include:

  • There is significant and proven demand for alternative fuel infrastructure in all three West Coast states. All fleets expressed interest in procuring alternative fuel vehicles within the next five years. And while fleets showed interest in all alternative fuel types covered in this effort’s purview, electricity was the most popular choice with 81 percent of respondents stating an interest in procuring EVs.
  • Fleet and fuel provider respondents proposed 147 alternative fuel infrastructure projects for the U.S. West Coast states: 67 in California, 57 in Oregon, and 23 in Washington (Figure 1) Of the 141 qualifying sites of targeted fuel types for this report (Table 1), we estimate the total cost to develop all of these stations would be roughly $373,600,000. The WCC believes that the infrastructure development project proposals listed in this document, captured through responses to surveys and other targeted outreach, only cover a small percentage of the full need for alternative fuel infrastructure for medium-heavy duty vehicles on the U.S. West Coast. CALSTART evaluated each of these projects to determine development readiness.
  • Alternative fuel infrastructure development is already underway in many locations. Most fleets surveyed (65 percent) stated that they currently have alternative fuel infrastructure projects underway. Most projects are sited on private access stations, likely located in our respondents’ own facilities. These existing projects may well serve as starting points for alternative fuel infrastructure expansion on the U.S. West Coast, but given their private nature, more public and limited access stations would be needed to expand corridor fueling.
  • Most (73 percent) fleet respondents say funding support is needed to purchase and install alternative fuel infrastructure.

Figure 1: Map of Sites Proposed by AFICC Stakeholders

Stakeholders identified the sites above, predominantly along the Interstate 5 travel corridor, for several alternative fuel type stations to enable long-distance alternative-fuel vehicle travel.

Table 1: Proposed AFICC Stations

EV H2 LPG CNG LNG Other Totals
California 34 6 6 16 0 5 67
Oregon 15 14 5 17 5 1 57
Washington 13 3 2 3 2 0 23
Totals 62 23 13 36 7 6 147


Given the strong appetite for near- and zero-emission infrastructure in California, Oregon and Washington, and the need for funding, the report recommends that AFICC partners and other stakeholders:

  • Take the learnings from this plan document and develop targeted investment plans per state. The partnerships formed between WCC Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Corridor Coalition (AFICC) partners should be sustained and leveraged for ongoing coordination on corridor planning, and other geographic regions are encouraged to replicate the WCC AFICC through similar regional partnerships across the United States.
  • Examine in detail the policy barriers to alternative fuel infrastructure development, and develop policies that support accelerated MHD infrastructure implementation in California, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Fundraise for MHD alternative fuel infrastructure development and petition for increased public funding support.
  • Share the information in the strategic plan document with partners external and tangential to the WCC.
  • Leverage the partnership contacts gathered through this effort for purposes of implementing the projects listed within this plan.
  • Prioritize infrastructure development in environmental justice communities where there is synergy with alternative fuel demand.
  • Consider workforce development opportunities which are likely to arise as a result of MHD alternative fuel infrastructure development on the U.S. West Coast.

The results of the WCC AFICC stakeholder engagement emphasize the need for strategic planning and the potential to meaningfully coordinate research among interested and invested stakeholders to influence real-world outcomes. Though the outcomes of the AFICC process have not yet had time to take effect, the recommendations could provide a model for corridor-based infrastructure development that could be replicated throughout the United States and abroad.

To read about more about our process, our findings, and our recommendations, access the full plan here: https://westcoastcollaborative.org/files/sector-fuels/wcc-aficc-mhd-infrastructure-development-plan-2020-03-12.pdf For any questions about WCC AFICC or CALSTART’s broader infrastructure efforts, please contact cscott@casltart.org.

Campbell Scott, Project Manager:

Campbell Scott works on CALSTART’s Alternative Fuels and Infrastructure team. His projects center on medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses as well as corridor-based infrastructure development. He played a pivotal role in the development of the Strategic Plan for the West Coast Collaborative Alternative Fuel Corridor.

Campbell holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geology with a minor in Urban and Environmental Policy/Economics from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.