A utility provider turned electric truck marketing guru — the new norm under shifting fuel landscape?

When shopping for a cell phone, most everyone is familiar with going to Verizon, AT&T and other network-based retailers.

In addition to selling phones, these carriers also provide the critical cell phone coverage needed to stay connected around the globe. Most everyone understands that the low prices on a lot of these phones are driven by big revenue carriers stand to gain through network charges over a one or two-year contract.

So what about shopping for an electric truck or van through a utility that provides the critical juice needed to keep battery-powered zero-emission workhorses charged up and ready to go? Is it a good idea and will it possibly help drive down the prices of these zero-emission zeitgeists since utilities stand to make truckloads of money charging them?

Kenworth announced Friday that it’s taking orders on its electric T270E and T370E trucks which are listed in Southern California Edison’s EV Finder. The list will be updated quarterly.Kenworth announced Friday that it’s taking orders on its electric T270E and T370E trucks which are listed in Southern California Edison’s EV Finder. The list will be updated quarterly.

While Southern California Edison isn’t exactly selling EVs, they’re certainly marketing them — which may be a sign of things to come for other utilities around the nation. And who can blame them? Mandated or otherwise, electric trucks and vans promise to pump up revenues faster than TVs and toasters.

The publicly traded SoCal Edison (NYSE: SCE-C), which is based near Los Angeles and serves 5,000 large businesses and 280,000 small businesses throughout 15 counties, recently revealed its EV Finder for fleets. The 88-page guide lists Class 2 – 8 electric trucks and vans (sorry, no pickups). Electric buses, including a double-decker, are also included.

SoCal Edison’s EV Finder features over 20 manufacturers, including Ford, Freightliner, Kenworth, Navistar, Peterbilt and Tesla which have their electric vehicles pictured along with helpful specs like range, battery storage capacity, charge time, cost and availability. Some of these, like the Tesla Semi, are test rigs and not available for sale just yet. Nonetheless, contact information is included so interested fleets can reach out directly to these manufacturers to learn more. Of note, Nikola Motor Company isn’t listed. I reached out to learn why, and was told that the “EV Finder tool is focused on vehicles that are in production or almost in production where the specs are established (kwh size, range, weight class, etc.”

While SoCal Edison isn’t selling these vehicles directly, they’re offering an enticing program for fleets in a state where OEMs must begin selling zero-emission commercial trucks and vans by 2024. Through its Charge Ready Transport program, qualifying fleets in California can have SoCal Edison design, build and install charging infrastructure at low to no cost. If preferred, fleets can install their own chargers and apply for a rebate.

Fleets can also dive deeper into commercial EVs through SoCal Edison’s website which features a section dedicated to the Charge Ready Transport program, a section for commercial EVs that offers information on a variety of EV-related topics and lastly a section titled Electric Fleet Fuel Savings Calculator. After entering various fleet parameters for the fictitious Quimby’s Parcel Service the calculator showed electric power clearly undercutting the cost of diesel by over $1 million over a ten-year period. Impressive, but it would have been even more telling to compare costs related to vehicle and charger acquisition and anticipated maintenance (electric clearly wins here). Also, additional costs will be incurred as technicians will have to undergo training to work on the new electric fleet and shops will need new equipment, tools and safety gear like body suits, arc face shields and insulated gloves. Dana’s video series on EV shop requirements and procedures are a real eye-opener on this front.

Volvo’s electric VNR, two of which will be going to work for SoCal-based Dependable Highway Express, are listed in SoCal Edison’s EV Finder.Volvo’s electric VNR, two of which will be going to work for SoCal-based Dependable Highway Express, are listed in SoCal Edison’s EV Finder.

Videos of recent webinars geared at helping fleets transition to EVs are also posted on SoCal Edison’s website. Neighboring utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric offer helpful personal EV information on their sites, but nothing—at least that I could find—on commercial EVs.

Utilities should be a big part of the commercial EV shopping equation since by necessity they have to play a fundamental role in supplying an adequate amount of juice for a fleet’s electric trucks and vans. An established utility like SoCal Edison which has been in business for over 130 years can provide plenty of insight and experience on the complex subject of charging infrastructure.

And there’s plenty to learn including power consumption cost rates. Unlike bulk purchasing discounts which most of us have come to expect, the more electricity a fleet uses, the higher the rates. Costs also rise when fleets charge up during peak times. That alone may convince fleets to charge up when most of the country is asleep. Of course, keep in mind, that the utility would rather you consume more juice than not.

And lastly, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. After all, where else are you going to go to charge up juice-hungry commercial EVs? While it’s true that on-site power production options are growing, unless they’re subsidized and designed accordingly, these intriguing options may prove too costly and just not powerful enough to meet a fleet’s charging needs.

Charging through repurposed EV batteries is a growing possibility. Batteries from used electric cars that have dipped to roughly 80% degradation are being used in stationary and portable power applications. Solar and zero-emissions fuel-cell generators can charge up these batteries which in turn can be used to charge up commercial EVs. However, fast-charging is not much of an option in this case at least for a fleet with substantial power demands.

Specs are listed for electric trucks and vans in SoCal Edison’s EV Finder. Freightliner’s eCascadia and eM2 box truck shown above.Specs are listed for electric trucks and vans in SoCal Edison’s EV Finder. Freightliner’s eCascadia and eM2 box truck shown above.

Batteries can also supply power for utilities too. Interestingly enough, SoCal Edison announced in May that they plan on putting one of the nation’s largest battery-based storage systems to work next year. Energized by solar and wind, the system will provide up to 770 megawatts of electricity which SoCal Edison told me helps them feel confident that they “can meet the demand from increasing commercial EV deployments” in a state that’s had trouble keeping up with power demands.

With growing pressure and legislation for zero emissions, fleets interested in all-electric trucks and vans will have to lean on local utilities to stay charged up. There’s no getting around that. A mix of on-site and utility-delivered electricity may be an ideal combination. But first, fleets would be wise to start with experts like those at SoCal Edison that are fully aware of the power requirements of these electric behemoths and how those demands can best be met.

In the meantime, hydrogen fuel cell players are playing catch-up. Currently, they can’t come close to competing with the nation’s power grid. But as H2 production grows, as evidenced most recently by Cummins announcement of a 5-megawatt electrolyzer in Washington State, the nation’s largest, it may not be long before H2 providers publish a commercial vehicle list of their own.