TeraWatt made waves in late 2022, when the electric vehicle (EV) charging firm announced that it had begun to develop the first network of high-powered charging centers for heavy-duty and medium-duty electric trucks along the Interstate 10 highway. We caught up with Robin Swartout, Head of Product at TeraWatt, to learn more about what the revolutionary company has been up to since.
Since coming onto the scene in mid-2021, TeraWatt has continued to drive progress in EV fleet charging and infrastructure. What do you have planned for 2023 that you can tell us about?
Standing up high-powered EV charging infrastructure takes a long time. From site acquisition, to design, to permitting, to utility coordination, there's a lot of work that goes into developing this infrastructure that is behind the scenes. This year we will be breaking ground and starting construction at several of our charging hubs - a huge milestone for the company.
At present, medium and heavy trucks represent 4% of vehicles in the U.S. but constitute 25% of highway fuel consumption and 30% of carbon emissions. What needs to change in the commercial transport industry for EVs to be embraced by the traditional transport juggernauts?
This is what’s both exciting and challenging about the MDHD space. Decisions for fleets around which vehicles to deploy, where and when is ultimately an economic decision, not an emotional one. I am very confident that in the next few years, skeptical fleets will see the reduction in fuel, operations, and maintenance expenses from EVs that their competitors are benefitting from and quickly jump on board. What many fleets are concerned about is that infrastructure becomes the bottleneck preventing them from buying, and vehicle manufacturers from selling, EV trucks. At TeraWatt, we’re doing everything that we can to stay ahead of demand for charging from customers, but we know it’s picking up.
What will the next 5 years look like for TeraWatt and EV travel? And when can we expect to see high-powered charging sites along the highways leading to New York, for example?
Within the next five years, I expect we will see heavy duty EVs throughout the country, and they will be as commonplace in California as passenger EVs are today.
TeraWatt recently announced a member partnership with the American Trucking Associations, and was present at the Orlando Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual exhibition. In what ways does Terawatt expect this partnership to advance the electrification of vehicles?
Understanding our customers and their needs is paramount. The more opportunities we have to directly engage with commercial fleets and drivers, the more we can ensure that TeraWatt’s charging solutions provide a delightful experience. We want to hear directly from operators and drivers what their concerns are, what they’re excited about, and how we can help.
A roadblock that long-haul trucking electrification is currently facing is demand for electricity potentially overloading the electrical grid – a problem which Terawatt has previously said it has solved by considering electric capacity availability when arranging charging centers. Has that problem-solving been informed more by expert research or by AI? What other expertise helped to overcome this difficult obstacle?
At all of our grid-connected sites, we work closely with the local utilities to ensure that there is electric capacity to support our use. Our team includes experts in the field. Our CEO spent a decade building Google’s data centers. Those frequently had loads of over 100MW! We aren’t quite there yet with our charging centers, but we have the team in place to be successful.
How has the I-10 Electric Corridor, the pioneering interstate EV charging network that spans 150 miles from Long Beach to El Paso, informed TeraWatt’s vision for the future? Are you still in the development phase, or has preparation for construction begun?
We know that economically, long-haul routes make the most sense for electrification. EVs save money relative to diesel as they operate, so the more you can utilize the asset, the better. At the moment, most HD EV vehicles don’t have the range and charge rates to unlock long-range use cases. Our corridor efforts are focused on bringing sites online that can serve regional use cases now, and once the vehicles are ready, our network will be there to support longer-range trips.
Media at the time of TeraWatt receiving $1 billion in funding said that the funds would be committed to charging infrastructure and the acquisition of new properties. When can EV enthusiasts expect to see a nationwide TeraWatt network?
Within the next five years I expect we will have a presence in most of the major trucking markets across the US.
Has President Biden’s $5 billion EV interstate charger package changed TeraWatt’s business model for the coming years?
The initial $5 billion funding package from the Biden Infrastructure Law is largely targeted towards the build out of a light-duty passenger EV charging network. That said, there was a recent announcement around an additional $2.5 billion in funding that will be available to support both corridor and community charging, including the build of charging for heavy-duty vehicles. In general, grants and incentives certainly help us to go faster and in particular develop more quickly in areas that may not have as much initial commercial traction. That said, we’re excited to be building a product tailored to the needs of our customers that makes sense financially even without incentives.
It’s currently estimated that operating costs for electric costs can be between 14% to 52% lower than their ICE counterparts. Do you have any estimates for how that cost-effectiveness will improve as EVs become even more widely embraced?
This is one of the parts of the electrification journey that I’m so excited about – fleet operators will see savings both on their fueling and on their ongoing maintenance. I expect that over the next few years we’ll see more examples of actual cost savings that fleets have been able to realize by electrifying. One other benefit that might not get enough attention is the driver experience. Early feedback from drivers of EVs is resoundingly positive. The noise and smells that they’ve adjusted to over their careers are suddenly gone, and in their place is way more torque.