Alan Bates of Shorepower Technologies
A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.
Editor’s Note: Normally the President’s Profile is reserved for a trucking company executive, but we occasionally feature an industry vendor whose product or service is making a significant impact for our readers. Such is the case this month, when Alan Bates of Shorepower Technologies answers questions about STEP, the Shorepower Truckstop Electrification Project. Read below to learn more about the future of STEP, including how AC power can help truckers save fuel, reduce idling, and run standard household appliances in their cabs. If you have suggestions for future Q&As, let us know.
What is the STEP program, and why is it important to the industry?
The STEP Program, aka Shorepower Truck Electrification Project, is a U.S. Department of Energy-funded demonstration project of truck stop electrification. Very simply, we’re deploying plug-in stations—similar to the hookups at RV parks and marinas—at truck stops across the country. The plug-in station allows drivers to draw power from the electrical grid rather than idle their truck engines to operate space heaters or cooling devices during their mandatory rest periods. By avoiding engine idling, drivers save a significant amount on fuel and maintenance costs. Plus, they reduce emission pollution by avoiding idling their truck engines.
For more than three decades, drivers have idled their truck engines overnight, burning diesel fuel at a rate of a gallon per hour or more. With a shore power alternative, drivers simply plug in their on-board equipment using an extension cord. Today’s long-haul trucks have become much more sophisticated because of new technologies, changing demographics, and the need to attract good qualified drivers to the profession. Many trucks, which need to provide drivers comfortable work and rest environments, feature auxiliary heating and cooling systems, and standard household outlets to power coffee makers, microwaves, televisions, entertainment systems, and laptops. Power pedestals bring access to electricity to power those devices, almost like “energy vending machines.”
Truck stop electrification (TSE) can also work in concert with onboard battery-powered and diesel-powered auxiliary power units, which saves truck and APU batteries. It can help APUs run longer between scheduled maintenance and extend their service life.
What are you hearing from fleets and truck stops on truck stop electrification?
Over time, Shorepower Technologies has conducted a number of market research studies with drivers and fleets, and the findings have been positive. Our research shows that about 90 percent of drivers report they would use shore power if given convenient access at a reasonable price. And that’s what we’re doing.
We’re building awareness and “market presence” by educating drivers and fleets about locations and the benefits of plugging in. We’re in discussions with a number of large fleets interested in using our service on a wide scale. As a result, our host site partners are very excited about bringing electrification to their truck stops because they foresee a day very soon when truck fleets will demand plug-ins. And they know if they provide them now, they will be much more competitive in the marketplace.
Larger chains, such as Pilot Flying J, as well as single-site truck stop operators, share this vision. In fact, now that shore power pedestals are appearing at truck stop locations across the country, we have more truck stops calling us to become part of the network. Down the road, we see TSE becoming as common as wireless internet.
Why does TSE make so much sense?
Electricity, as a fuel source, is widely available and familiar to almost everyone. The RV park, marina, and airport industries learned this years ago and have been plugging in their equipment for decades. Electricity always has been, and very likely always will be, a significantly less expensive and more dependable source of fuel than oil.
Over the past 30 years, with few exceptions, the price of electricity has remained more consistent while the price of diesel has fluctuated wildly. Plus, the cost of diesel has remained significantly higher than that of electricity. Simple plug-in infrastructure offers an affordable way to tap the grid, which can be powered by everything from coal to solar. The beauty is that even the dirtiest coal-fired electricity plant is significantly cleaner and more efficient than an internal combustion engine. Renewable energy sources, such as wind- and solar-generated power, make for an even cleaner alternative to the internal combustion engine.
When diesel costs $3.25 per gallon, a truck operator can save $4,000 per year over idling the truck’s engine – a significant sum in an industry where margins are thin and efficiency is critical to being competitive. Simple plug-in pedestals, like those offered by Shorepower, are relatively low cost to build, operate, and maintain; that translates to lower overall costs and greater comfort for the driver and a more sustainable business model.
How do you break the chicken/egg situation?
With the help of the DOE, Shorepower Technologies is transforming the trucking industry and solving the chicken/egg dilemma by building a national network of plug-in stations. It’s not unlike what happened in the cell phone industry. Wide networks of cell phone towers have made calling on cell phones commonplace. But there was a time when cell coverage barely allowed you to travel across town without the call dropping.
But unlike cell phone towers, power pedestals don’t cost that much to build or install. We’re now creating that “network of towers” with our truck stop electrification efforts. By the end of the STEP build-out, we’ll have close to 60 strategically placed locations throughout the United States. And that’s just the beginning.
With our efforts, it will soon be possible for truck drivers to drive coast-to-coast via major transport corridors and plug in almost every night.
Our long-term goal is to have 1,000 or more locations at many of the most popular places where truck drivers park. And in the not-too-distant future, drivers will be able to use plug-in stations more easily than making a cell phone call with the knowledge they’re saving money, their health, and the environment. And they certainly won’t have to worry about traveling outside the coverage area.