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WattEV opens public truck charging depot in Long Beach port

Megawatt charging depots so far are behind-the-fence operations exclusive to the fleets that operate them. Truck-as-a-Service (TaaS) startup WattEV changes that when it opens its first charging-for-all installation at the Port of Long Beach.

“A lot of competitors have been talking about infrastructure, but we actually have equipment in the ground,” Salim Youssefzadeh, WattEV founder and CEO, told FreightWaves ahead of opening its first public changing depot Monday at the Port of Long Beach.

“We have other sites opening this year and then a number of other sites that we have under contract that we haven’t even announced that takes us all the way up to the Sacramento area.”

WattEV announced a site in Bakersfield, California, in late 2021. The operation is based on a pony express, in which an electric truck driver could bring a truck needing a charge to the WattEV facility and swap it for a fully charged truck to complete its route. The idea is simple. Specifics are more complicated.

“We can operate on a relay basis depending on the number of trucks that a TaaS customer has,” Youssefzadeh said. “For instance, if I have a route that goes from Long Beach to Hesperia and I have a charging station on that site, then I can do one truck there and one truck in LA and then just swap them as I keep going.”

Leveraging grant money

WattEV has acquired its first trucks, Nikola Tre battery electric models capable of up to 300 miles between charges. It has received more than $20 million in grants for the trucks and its infrastructure with more expected. A Series A fundraising round expected to close in June 2022 is delayed.

“We’ll make an announcement fairly soon on that,” Youssefzadeh said. “We have backing from both institutional as well as traditional VC investors.”

The company is awaiting delivery of 50 Volvo VNR Electric models it ordered with grants from the California Air Resources Board. Each of the trucks qualified for a $168,000 voucher through the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project.

WattEV has accomplished a lot given a lack of resources like competitors Forum Mobility, Voltera and TeraWatt have received. The startup had a coming out party at the 2022 Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach when the port charging facility was announced.

First WattEV project up and running in 14 months

“Long Beach was actually the last of the four that we announced, but it was the first to go live,” Youssefzadeh said. “It’s really the persistence that we had coordinating the Port of Long Beach, Southern California Edison, as well as really managing the lead times on switchgear and all the other equipment.”

Long Beach had a few advantages that helped WattEV complete its project in just 14 months, practically unheard of speed in getting a large-scale facility completed. 

“It helps that power was already available in Long Beach,” Youssefzadeh said. “In some cases, that may not be true. There may be sites that you come upon that don’t have the power available right away or that need  to go through upgrades, which can take years.”

Those delays are a drag on heavy-duty electric truck deliveries. Fleets may want the trucks but they don’t want to let them sit while waiting for reliable charging. WattEV expects depots in Gardena, San Bernardino and Bakersfield to open in the late fourth quarter this year.

WattEV is opening Long Beach with 5 megawatts of charging, capable of simultaneous charging of 26 trucks at 180 kilowatts. The site eventually will have about 8 MW of power and stored energy to even out charging needs at peak times.

Battery-electric Nikola Tre Class 8 trucks are domiciled at the new WattEV charging facility at the Port of Long Beach. (Photo: WattEV)

Behind-the-fence installations

Schneider opened a private charging facility in June at its South El Monte Operations Center, capable of charging 32 trucks at one time, It distributes 4.8 megawatts through four 1.2 MW power stations. Sixteen 350-kW dual-corded dispensers operate at 175 kW, achieving an 80% charge within 90 minutes.

NFI Industries is in the final stages of building a similar facility in Ontario that will allow the company to convert its entire drayage fleet to battery-electric power. Delays in getting switchgear has delayed the facility’s opening.

“The Schneiders and NFIs are building chargers behind the fence for their own fleets, but that isn’t to say that they won’t need to charge elsewhere, as well,” Youssefzadeh said. “They can only go so far with the return-to-base operation. Having public infrastructure is still needed to extend their range and extend the radius to where they’re traveling to.”

WattEV maps out multiple charging options

WattEV sees several ways of engaging customers that need charging.

“We’re actually seeing a new customer present itself now that we have actual sites operational,” Youssefzadeh said. “These are the type of customers that have bought trucks but don’t have places to charge. They’re asking if they could come in and domicile at our facilities and operate in an off-take agreement.”

WattEV also is operating a few trucks on its own and in a pilot with Uber Freight to see  whether zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles make sense for 3PLs.

“If you look at more of the middle-mile sector, we see the transition to electrification really starting at the shipper side where the shippers have sustainability goals or mandates that’s forcing them to transition,” Youssefzadeh said. “Then, they’re pushing more of the carriers to start adopting those.”

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Startup WattEV wants to revive the Pony Express for electric trucks

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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