Big electric-truck charging depots are coming soon to California

With $75.6 million in federal grants, startup WattEV will build three megawatt-scale charging stations aimed at extending the range of heavy-duty EV trucks.
By Jeff St. John

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Electric truck parked next to charging station at the Port of Long Beach
An electric truck parked next to a charging station at the Port of Long Beach, the first of several truck-charging and -swapping hubs being built by startup WattEV. (WattEV)

California leads the U.S. in the push to swap out diesel-fueled trucks for electric — and in the buildout of the electric truck stops and depots those new trucks will depend on. 

Earlier this month, trucking-as-a-service startup WattEV announced its latest contribution to the electrification of California’s highways — building three more electric truck-charging depots in the state using $75.6 million in federal grants.

WattEV will work with local government partners to build two depots along the I-5 corridor in California’s Central Valley and another in the city of Blythe on the California–Arizona border, with a combined total of 258 charging points. All three depots will include megawatts of solar panels and battery storage to provide clean power and reduce their hefty draw on power grids.

The depots will also feature the first rollout of WattEV’s megawatt charging stations, built to provide even faster charging speeds than today’s direct-current fast chargers. Its two Central Valley sites in Gustine and Taft will have 17 megawatt chargers alongside 175 standard DC fast chargers capable of delivering 350 kilowatts. 

To be clear, the technology standards for megawatt charging systems are still in development, and no electric trucks on the road are capable of using them today. (Tesla has built its own proprietary fast-charging system now delivering 750 kilowatts of charging to its Tesla Semi electric trucks in early deployment in California.) 

But WattEV CEO Salim Youssefzadeh said that planning ahead to support megawatt-scale charging is an important step in expanding the range of electric trucks. Today’s still-rare electric big rigs mainly run daily routes between ports and warehouses and delivery points. 

Successive real-world test drives have shown that electric trucks can handle the sub-100-mile routes that make up the majority of freight-hauling trips today, and that the latest heavy-duty electric trucks can go hundreds of miles between charges.

But WattEV is hoping for its new sites to act as more of that long-haul hub” for the most challenging set of trucks to electrify, Youssefzadeh said — those that carry freight long distances on interstate and cross-country routes. Being able to plan for the future is critical for that.” 

WattEV’s business model aims to help trucking and freight companies that are still struggling to justify more expensive electric trucks over their diesel-fueled brethren and are worried about enough charging being available for them to complete their routes. WattEV’s Pony Express” concept involves leasing electric trucks to its customers on a swap-and-share basis. With excess trucks on hand, a driver can deliver a load of cargo, then leave that truck to recharge and hop into another truck that dropped off its load hours ago and has since been charging back up to a full battery. 

We’ve made some fairly large [electric truck] orders in the past that are starting to trickle in,” Youssefzadeh said. We anticipate well over 100 trucks in our fleet by the middle of this year.” 

California’s electric-trucking and charging-as-a-service landscape

WattEV is one of a number of electric-truck-depot developers and trucking-as-a-service” companies with ambitions to build up from serving trucks making shorter hauls to serving those making longer ones. Its first site at the Port of Long Beach is targeting drayage trucks that move cargo from ports to warehouses, which are the initial fleets slated for conversion to zero-emissions models under California’s ambitious Advanced Clean Fleets rule.

Forum Mobility and TeraWatt Infrastructure, two other contenders in the electric-truck-depot business, are likewise looking to establish themselves in and around Southern California ports. Forum Mobility, which has a $400 million joint venture to back its expansion, is offering electric trucks from its Long Beach charging hub, and is building more charging depots on routes between California ports and inland distribution hubs. 

TeraWatt Infrastructure, which has $1 billion in financial backing to develop charging hubs for both light- and heavy-duty EVs across the country, has started building truck-charging sites near various ports, including one at Rancho Dominguez, south of Los Angeles. 

These sites can be used for dual purposes,” TeraWatt CEO Neha Palmer, the former head of Google’s energy strategy, said in an October interview. They can be used for more local traffic — and 80 percent of truck routes are less than 200 miles.” PepsiCo plans to use TeraWatt’s Rancho Dominguez site for last-mile” electric-truck charging, for instance. 

But they can also be used by trucks going further afield,” she said. TeraWatt’s larger goal is to build charging depots on the I-10 from California to Texas, with the company identifying the Phoenix, Arizona area as its first planned site outside California. 

Building these truck-charging sites at scale will take a lot of money. WattEV’s new federal grants add to about $60 million it has previously secured from various state and federal agencies and programs. 

WattEV also raised an undisclosed equity and project-financing round in November led with funds managed by private equity firm Apollo Global Management and energy-trading and infrastructure firm Vitol.

Youssefzadeh declined to detail WattEV’s total financing capacity to date. But he said that the commitments from Apollo and Vitol should allow us to grow significantly from the four sites we have coming online today to 400-plus sites we plan to bring online, hopefully soon.” 

Like other deep-pocketed developers of EV-charging infrastructure, WattEV hasn’t disclosed exactly where all those future charging stations will be. But it has mapped out its plans for its next round of truck-charging and -swapping stations along the I-5 and I-10 corridors in California, as well as a project it’s pursuing in Salem, Oregon to serve trucks traveling along the I-5 corridor from Southern California to Washington state’s border with Canada. 

Map of WattEV electric truck charging depots planned in California and Oregon
WattEV's planned electric-truck charging stations. (WattEV)

Targeting the key routes for long-haul electric truck charging

It’s not yet clear how the electric-trucking and charging-as-a-service business models will play out in a market that’s still in its infancy. For the most part, freight companies have been buying electric trucks and installing charging in small batches, focused on regions that combine mandates to phase out diesel-fueled trucks with generous incentives to defray the cost of making the switch to electric.

Southern California is the most active market by far, with major freight and logistics companies such as Prologis and Schneider National deploying scores of electric trucks and supporting charging infrastructure. But electric heavy-duty trucks still make up fewer than 300 of the roughly 1.8 million trucks in California that will be subject to the state’s clean-fleets and clean-trucks rules. 

Concentrating charging grants and incentives on early-adopter markets like California is a good strategy, said Ray Minjares, who directs the program on heavy-duty vehicles at the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation. Last year, ICCT released a report finding that a majority of the trucking emissions reductions called for in pending U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules could be supported by concentrating truck-charging investments in a handful of major freight corridors, including along I-5 and I-10 in California. 

This is about how you can increase the number of electric miles in the U.S.,” Minjares said. We talk about the sales of vehicles. But it’s actually about the energy they’re consuming — especially the vehicle miles consuming the most energy, which is the long-haul tractors.”

In a December blog post, Minjares and colleague Yihao Xie condensed their findings into a couple of maps showing where long-haul truck charging would offer the greatest impact. It makes strategic and economic sense in the near term to electrify the largest number of trucks along the smallest number of roadways where the business case is strongest,” they wrote.

Map of transit routes to prioritize for electric truck charging to meet federal transport decarbonization goals
Map showing three priority areas for truck-charging infrastructure. (ICCT)

WattEV’s new grants come from the federal Charging and Fueling Infrastructure program, which earlier this month issued $623 million to 47 applicants in 22 states and Puerto Rico. It’s the first round of grants from a $2.5 billion pool of funds created by 2021’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support community and corridor charging — a separate program from the $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program for states to build EV charging along highways.

Minjares noted that relatively few of the projects that won grants this month overlap with ICCT’s map of high-priority transit corridors. There’s a risk of using these dollars ineffectively without a strategy,” he said. He called for a national freight strategy that shapes federal investments, so we’re electrifying the most important, most strategic freight corridors.” 

Youssefzadeh said that WattEV and other truck-charging providers will continue to rely on grants and other government support to cover the cost of building while the number of electric trucks on the road is still small. 

We rely on grants to bring down the cost to make it work, and we’ll continue to rely on grants as much as possible,” he said. 

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.