The Volvo Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions (LIGHTS) project, which ran from 2019 to 2022 in California’s South Coast Air Basin, has come to an end.

Volvo Trucks North America, together with 14 public and private partners*, shared lessons learned from the $44.8 million pilot project**, which is expected to help lay the foundation for the successful commercialization of battery-electric freight trucks.

During the three-year experiment, Volvo Trucks deployed 30 Volvo VNR Electric Class 8 electric semi trucks to 11 fleets, which covered more than 250,000 miles (400,000 km). Partners installed 58 charging points to support the daily operations of the trucks in various applications.

Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, said that thanks to the project they were to "validate key processes around Class 8 battery-electric truck adoption for commercial transport segments and identify challenges that needed to be addressed for widespread market introduction."

Volvo VNR Electric
Volvo VNR Electric
Volvo VNR Electric
Volvo VNR Electric

Insights gained from the project were gathered in the Volvo LIGHTS Lessons Learned Guidebook (pdf).

Among the conclusions we noticed a few interesting - like for example "Identifying Ideal Routes is Key to Electrification Success". According to the info, the trucks were usually used for hauling freight 80-150 miles per day, which is within range of the Volvo VNR Electric model. However, the switch to EVs requires looking beyond battery range figures and making sure it will be enough in all conditions.

"Assessing the viability of using electric trucks in fleet operations requires looking beyond a battery range figure, especially in these early days, given the state of onboard energy storage systems and lack of charging networks. The truck’s range can be impacted by several factors, such as the length of the route between stops, topography (particularly in hilly and mountainous terrains), and weather conditions (particularly, extreme heat or cold)."

It was noted also to adapt driving style, which saves energy and maximizes the regenerative braking benefits (estimated at up to 5-15% more range).

Because the range is a crucial factor, Volvo Trucks developed a special route planning tool that enables fleet managers to simulate real-world routes. It's underlined to carefully study a fleet's operational details and identify customer routes and applications that are best suited for electric trucks.

Of course, a very important element is the charging network - DC fast chargers along the highways as well as depot chargers.

An interesting finding was to anticipate unexpected project delays, especially related to charging infrastructure installation. This part must be secure before the truck will enter service.

"One of the most important lessons learned about infrastructure development is the need to anticipate delays in charging infrastructure installation and to build in extra time ahead of the planned BEV delivery. Fleets should start site and equipment planning early to understand their power needs and develop project plans for infrastructure installation."

Charging infrastructure might bring new unique challenges to fleets - like peak energy demand costs. It's advised to mitigate them with on-site solar and battery energy storage.

There are many various insights listed, but even those few mentioned above indicate that the approach must be comprehensive and well planned as the switch to EV trucks early (without a decent public fast charging network) is not a simple purchase.

As the market matures, it's expected that the process will be easier, but we are not there yet.

* The Volvo LIGHTS project was led by Volvo Group North America and California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD), and included NFI Industries (NFI), Dependable Highway Express (DHE), TEC Equipment, Shell Recharge Solutions (formerly Greenlots), Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, Southern California Edison (SCE), CALSTART, University of California, Riverside CE-CERT, Reach Out, Rio Hondo College, and San Bernardino Valley College.

** The Volvo LIGHTS project was made possible by a $44.8 million award to South Coast AQMD from the CARB as part of California Climate Investments (CCI), a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars toward reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving both public health and the environment. South Coast AQMD also contributed $4 million from its Clean Fuels Fund. Volvo Group and its partners contributed $43 million in matching funds for a total project of $91 million.

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