Advancing Minnesota’s electric vehicle revolution: Bridging the gap in heavy-duty transportation

May 15, 2024
In the race toward a carbon-free future, Minnesota continues to advance clean energy goals, including electrifying its transportation sector. With groundbreaking initiatives, the state is witnessing a surge in adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). However, while strides have been made in electric cars and buses, electrifying heavy-duty transportation presents a unique challenge.

Introduction

The transition to clean energy in the transportation sector is one of the most pivotal areas of focus as we aim for a carbon-free future. Minnesota’s goal to have 1 out of every 5 cars be electric by 2030 serves as a testament to how crucial electrification of the transportation sector is for the green energy movement. The Inflation Reduction Act, which focuses on promoting clean energy, has induced significant government incentives for many industries, including transportation. These incentives, such as tax credits and rebate programs, have led to the popularization of EVs. As of January 2023, Minnesota has over 34,000 registrations for electric vehicles, according to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

 

Current milestones

Looking at the current strides being taken in the sector, the Evie Carshare service, owned by the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and sponsored by Xcel Energy, has shown significant growth over the recent years since its implementation, with over 150,000 trips since February 2022. According to Mayor Carter, the Evie Carshare service has become an innovative, invaluable community asset to the Twin Cities since its launch in 2022. Evie Carshare’s reached 1.5 million in zero-emission miles, substantially reducing the city’s carbon footprint whilst providing transportation needs for demographics such as low-income earners and the BIPOC community.

In 2023, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed into law significant incentives and other funding aimed at contributing to efforts to expand transportation electrification. This included state grants that would match federal funding to invest in EV charging networks, consumer rebates focused on EV purchasing and investment in purchasing EV school buses.

The Minnesota Electric Vehicle Rebate Program passed in the 2023 Minnesota legislature. The Rebate Program, launched in February 2024, is administered through the Minnesota Department of Commerce and currently accepts applications on a first come, first serve basis. The rebate offers up to $2,500 for new and $600 for used EVs. Minnesota consumers will receive about $15.716 million in first time rebates for purchasing electric vehicles, following Illinois as the second Midwestern state to have an EV Rebate Program.

Moreover, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has implemented the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula (NEVI) Program, which provides funding to states that focus on developing convenient, affordable, efficient, and equitable fast charging networks, helping to expand the technology across the country. MnDOT is expected to receive and invest about $68 million over the 2022-2026 fiscal years through NEVI and is responsible for managing and applying the funds in the state. State lawmakers approved a supplementary fund of about $13.6 million in additional funding for NEVI to help effectively implement the investments.

Electric vehicle basics

There are mainly two types of EVs: Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) that run on electricity stored in a battery, and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV), which combine a traditional fuel-burning engine and an electric battery. There are a variety of benefits that come with electric vehicles, including the reduction of emissions caused by gasses emitted from the tailpipe and into the atmosphere. EVs also serve as a cost-effective alternative to fuel-burning cars since gas prices are much higher than charging an EV battery. The maintenance difference between fuel-burning cars and EVs is significant, with electric vehicles having fewer parts. Additionally, the electrification of transportation leverages changes in the electricity sector, inducing job creation and helping the state’s overall well-being.

 

Addressing challenges in medium- to heavy-duty electric vehicle adoption

The development of electric vehicles and electric buses in the transportation sector has shown significant potential in transport electrification; however, larger transport types for medium- to heavy-duty have shown a lag in development. This is due to a range of factors like the niche market, high prices, and lower efficiency and accessibility. According to a research project by Crossroads, understanding the limitations and needs surrounding heavy-duty EV adoption could help develop better strategies for the sector. Their study discusses how medium- to heavy-duty require specific criteria for charging stations, including access, proximity to truck stop stations, and proximity to power substations.

Medium- and heavy-duty EVs have high energy needs because they are heavier than their light-duty counterparts, pull heavier loads and often travel longer routes each day. These factors mean that some medium- and heavy-duty EVs require big battery packs of up to 1,000 kW. The substantial energy requirements and large battery capacities pose significant obstacles for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles (EVs). Currently, most public EV charging infrastructure is designed for light-duty EVs, with Level 2 chargers being the most prevalent. While these chargers can fully charge an average light-duty EV within 8-10 hours, the same charging process for an electric truck equipped with a 600-kWh battery would take considerably longer, ranging from 80 to 100 hours when using a Level 2 charger.

The challenges in medium- and heavy-duty EV charging are exacerbated by the limited accessibility of publicly available chargers to larger vehicles. Frequently, chargers are situated in parking facilities designed exclusively for accommodating light-duty EVs. Consequently, the majority of medium- and heavy-duty buses and trucks are unable to access the expanding network of public chargers.

 

Building a fast charging network to equip all EV types

The innovative dynamics in electric vehicle technologies are essentially correlated through power generation and speed of provision for the EV battery. This function is largely the same for both light and medium to heavy-duty vehicles, with the only difference being that heavy-duty vehicles require more power than light-duty vehicles. The power provisions are categorized by levels from 1 to 3, with level 1 being the slowest power source and level 3 being a DC fast charger.

The most effective charger for heavy-duty vehicles is the level 3 fast charger, which can provide a significant amount of power more quickly. The heavy-duty vehicles similar to light-duty EVs can be charged on level 2 chargers however this serves to be slow and inefficient for heavy-duty EVs. One of the issues for heavy-duty EVs is that fast charging technologies are not as accessible and available and have to be allocated on a home or company port. According to Ziegler Truck Group, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up the largest portion of carbon emissions in the transportation sector and, in contrast, tend to be overlooked under policy implementations, as discussed above.

Explaining the gap

When it comes to conversations on electric vehicles, light-duty vehicles are the main area of discussion. Firstly, light-duty vehicles carry consumer sentiment relative to commercial vehicles, skewing policy implementations towards light-duty vehicles used by the average consumer relative to commercial vehicles. Secondly, when considering the use of incentives, heavy-duty vehicle incentives still exist mainly on the federal level and not at the state level for many states, with a few outliers relative to light-duty vehicles.

The implementation of heavy-duty technologies is also strongly tied to the structure of policies. EV policy implementation must utilize the two critical levers of supply and demand for the infrastructure. These have to be used and accounted for simultaneously to generate effective results, which tends to be a cost-prohibitive approach. Currently, these incentives are disjointed for many states. To tackle this, some states have incorporated programs like plug incentives that encourage the installation of charging technologies such as 150 amp charging plugs in exchange for financial gain. States that have been able to implement such strategies include CO, WA, NY and NJ, which MN can imitate. California is currently the leader in incentivizing commercial fleet EVs over conventional internal combustion engine fleets.

 

Policy recommendations

Minnesota needs to show stronger support for the implementation of heavy-duty technologies in order to further decarbonize the transportation sector. According to Ziegler Truck Group, today, there are midsize class trucks traveling an average of 150 miles per day on MN roads in a variety of sectors, essentially showing that the landscape for medium- to heavy-duty EVs exists and has strong potential to thrive. Although the landscape exists, many of Ziegler’s customers have expressed concerns about the costs of adopting and implementing medium- to heavy-duty EVs in their own business operations. Minnesota needs to prioritize policies that support businesses wanting to help decarbonize the transportation sector and make it easier to implement medium- to heavy-duty EVs.

Minnesota can do this by developing a pilot program to incentivize qualifying businesses to purchase or lease a medium or heavy-duty EV. This type of pilot program would induce support for early commercial deployment of existing mediumto heavy-duty zero-emissions technology and significantly contribute to the decarbonization of the transportation sector. Additionally, the pilot program would be extremely effective for companies that use these vehicles in daily business operations.

For example, imagine a small-scale local dry-cleaning laundromat business in an environmental justice neighborhood that offers delivery services requiring medium-duty vehicles to fulfill orders. The laundromat would be incentivized via a grant from the pilot program to purchase an EV fleet and possibly the charging infrastructure needed. With the adoption of an EV fleet and charging infrastructure, the business would be able to make its daily deliveries and charge the EV overnight to prepare for the next business day while also lowering carbon emissions in their surrounding area. A pilot program would allow the state to test the longevity and adoption of grant financing, helping to achieve clean energy on Minnesota roads.

At a much larger scale, delivery-based companies requiring use of mediumto heavy-duty vehicles, such as Amazon, FedEx, and UPS have set the bar high to show their commitment to a sustainable future. In recent years, the three companies have invested in medium-duty to heavy-duty EV fleets and charging infrastructure for deliveries across the country and the world.

If Minnesota implements such a pilot program, it is important to note that incentives do not necessarily equal the adoption of medium- to heavy-duty EVs. Participants of the pilot programs will need proper support and convincing as they navigate both state and federal incentives. Bridging the gap between light- and medium- to heavy-duty vehicles in the transportation sector requires a dynamic approach, including targeted policies, robust infrastructure investments, and strategic partnerships with industry stakeholders.

Mayande Headshot

This is a guest blog written by Mayande Mamba, policy intern at CEEM for the 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session. Mayande is responsible for helping track important bills that aid in research and policy analysis. She is a sophomore at Macalester College, majoring in economics and mathematics. Read more about Mayande.

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