Horseless power

| February 01, 2002

Some idling options, such as IdleAire, don’t require buying a single piece of equipment. Others, such as gen sets and inverters, require electricity producing equipment and additional appliances such as block heaters and climate-control units. Here are some present and emerging technologies.

TRUCK STOP ELECTRIFICATION

Until recently, truck stop operators had little incentive to electrify their parking lots. But attitudes are changing, prompted by a growing demand from customers and a proliferation of anti-idling ordinances.

George Strickland, director of engineering and construction for Travel Centers of America, says his company ventured into electrification in 1995, when it applied for permits to construct a plaza near Willington, Conn. “We agreed to outfit 40 spaces with electrical hookups,” he says. “But in the four years since the site opened, few truckers have taken advantage of the service. Many of them felt the outlets were more of a nuisance than anything.”

Strickland attributes the low use to poor advertising and few trucks wired for shore power. Price certainly wasn’t the problem. He says the facility charges about $2 per night.

Nevertheless, Strickland is optimistic that electrification will gain acceptance among truck stops and fleets. “Until recently, they were too busy hauling freight and more worried about having enough equipment and drivers,” he says. “But now, with fuel prices up, I think there’s a real incentive for them to re-evaluate the situation.”

Rick Tempchin of the Edison Electric Institute also believes the tide is turning. “We haven’t yet nailed down the perfect business model for selling electricity to truckers,” he says, “but at least we have all the pieces to the puzzle.” These include growing user interest, proven truck infrastructure and card-swipe, point-of-purchase systems to reduce the burden on truck stop personnel.

CURBSIDE DELIVERY

IdleAire Technologies has developed a system that offers every possible utility short of running water -sort of a cross between truck stop electrification and Park ‘N’ View-type service.

After nearly three years of designing and testing, IdleAire launched a pilot program with three units at a New York Thruway rest stop. The program was such a success that IdleAire is dismantling those spaces and planning to build modules for 44 spaces along the Thruway.

The IdleAire module, at the end of a flexible tube suspended from an overhead truss, inserts into the truck window. It provides heat or air conditioning, a telephone line, Internet access and AC electricity, both indoor and outdoor for engine block heaters. “It has to be convenient for drivers if we’re going to change their idling habits,” says Tom Badgett of IdleAire.

Company officials also hope to appeal to truck stop owners, who will pay no installation or maintenance costs, yet share in the revenue, helping to offset a slight drop in fuel sales. At the New York Thruway, eight hours of IdleAire sold for $9.75, paid for with the swipe of a credit card.

Badgett says IdleAire has signed contracts with several truck stop chains, which he declined to name, and plans to begin installation in March.

AUXILIARY POWER UNITS

The auxiliary power unit comes in two general forms. One is a gen set providing 110-watt power for in-cab devices such as climate control systems, block heaters, refrigerators and microwaves. The other drives the truck’s regular DC devices and climate-control systems, but it does not provide 110-watt power.

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