True to its nickname “Sand Box,” the first-of-its-kind public charging station designed for medium- and heavy-duty electric commercial vehicles is a site of creativity and collaboration.
In a sector accelerating toward decarbonization for the long haul, Electric Island, located near Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA) headquarters in Portland, Oregon, showcases how to power electric vans, trucks and buses today, and will also serve as grounds for innovation and testing.
More than two years in the making, the site debuted in April 2021 with eight high-powered charging stations. The site, formerly a fast-food restaurant, was re-designed to accommodate large electric vehicles.
Electric Island is ready for megawatt-level charging at a rate four times faster than most fast-charging options currently available. The difference means delivery drivers can recharge a vehicle in 20 minutes – time enough to grab a break and a snack – versus hours. In an industry like trucking, where time is money, this is a gamechanger. The collaboration between DTNA and Portland General Electric (PGE) to build Electric Island, with design and engineering expertise from Black & Veatch Provides a virtual sand box of technology. Here, various chargers will be tested for reliability, compatibility, and efficiency with the commercial vehicles.
“The objective is to build up the sandcastles and learn from building them, then knock them down and build them back up better,” said Rustam Kocher, PGE’s utility’s transportation electrification team manager.
Future site plans call for more chargers, on-site energy storage, solar power generation, and a product and technology showcase building.
“This is absolutely the future, and we’re happy to be on the forefront of this,” said Adam Mackey, the DTNA construction design manager who oversaw the project. “I think we’re really hoping to gather from this something that can be replicated over and over.”
“This is one of hundreds of installations that will be like this across the country in the future, and we kind of have the initial recipe,” Paul Stith, Black & Veatch’s director of global transportation initiatives, added. Stith also serves on the boards of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and Forth, a leading U.S. organization advancing clean transportation.
Why Innovation Matters
Given transportation’s status as an oversized contributor to pollution and climate-warming emissions, the automotive industry is accelerating the delivery of electrified commercial vehicles to lower and gradually eliminate the industry’s carbon footprint. The mission is to demonstrate with certainty that freight trucks can pull their weight in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions ― and that they have the robust charging means to do it.
Electric Island highlights the importance of ensuring that charging infrastructure keeps pace with commercial fleet adoption. The location is significant, as well. Electric utilities in Oregon, Washington state, and California are part of the “West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative,” which envisions high-capacity chargers lining coastal routes at 50-mile intervals.
Electric Island addresses the ecosystem nexus of electrified trucks and the grid while creating opportunities for tomorrow’s electric vehicle drivers and utility customers. Powered by DTNA’s enrollment in PGE’s “Green Future Impact” renewable energy program, the site – and all vehicle charging – gives off no greenhouse gas emissions.
Lessons learned at Electric Island will help transform the industry’s thinking, giving its partners the opportunity to test cutting-edge technology, build upon it, prove the infrastructure’s scalability and ultimately unlock the potential of zero-carbon transportation options.
Among the learnings will be the impact on the grid as multiple trucks charge, and ways to mitigate grid impact, and even send power from the vehicles back to the grid, if needed. What’s more, the future-proofed design easily can accommodate upgrades with technologies as they evolve. A concrete tunnel was installed instead of a traditional conduit to give workers the convenience and flexibility to swap out conductors and other hardware easily, without having to tear up the parking lot.
The Case for Collaboration
On the technical side, innovation brings its own unique challenges. DTNA, PGE and Black & Veatch sorted out the complexities of the design elements, namely emerging technologies such as chargers and related equipment: things like two 3,000-amp power boards and switchboards with 4.5 megawatts of potential power.
“It was really a collaborative effort during the design phase to work with all those teams together to figure out exactly what it is and what the vision was, then get that in a detailed design, through permitting and then actually built,” said Richard Horne, Director of Execution. “We spent a lot of meetings collaborating, discussing, trying things out. We changed and morphed along the way.”
The result is a site built for today and tomorrow.
“We have the long view in mind when we installed this site, and we’re excited about what we’re going to learn and be able to share with the public through this effort,” said Nate Hill, head of charging infrastructure at DTNA.