That time we got to trial an 11 Tonne Electric Truck
Updated: Feb 16
The great thing about eliminating fossil fuels entirely from your business is that you discover so many other people with a similar passion for the climate and systemic change in the way we power our businesses. During our journey, we came across Hamish MacPherson from Blackwells Isuzu, a serial good bastard who had completely converted a 2020 Isuzu FRD600LA 11T truck to electric, and was willing to lend it to us for free to see how it was when for our recent cherry harvest!
Here is a few shots and also the specifications to give you some context.
This year, we harvested just over 8T of cherries across 5 different harvest dates. On the biggest day, we harvested 5T and used the truck to transport cherry bins (500kgs each) down the road to our local pack-house for washing, grading and packing into our NZ Zero brand, which is our Zero Fossil Fuel consumer brand.
Most people compare electric technology to existing technology and look for shortcomings. You won't see this in this blog post, because we believe the elimination of fossil fuels is an absolute requirement for the future. Therefore, we need to adapt how we operate to achieve this goal.
So with the elimination of fossil fuels as the main requirement, it is probably best to tell the story of getting qualified with our class 2 license, getting the truck from Christchurch to Cromwell, running it through our six week harvest period, and then finally returning it.
Fully-electric (converted) 2020 Isuzu FRD600LA
11T GVM (7T unladen)
Original Engine: 6HK1, 7,790cc turbo-diesel which produced 760Nm of torque
Electric Replacement: 195kW electric motor that produces 3500Nm of torque!
138kWh of battery storage
Range varies greatly based on speed, wind and load, but 150kms is a good 1 dimensional figure to quote around the water cooler.
Obtaining our class 2 license and regulatory obstacles
We are not truck drivers, we are orchardists who love electric technology. Therefore, the first thing Euan White, our orchard manager, needed to do was get his class 2 license to drive an 11T GVM truck.
He found that while the fundamentals of weight, control, fatigue and load security were all the same, at least a quarter of the course was not relevant to electric trucks; subjects such as gear changes, engine braking and refuelling. But on top of this, there is additional adaptation required by Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Authority) in the future to include subjects such as regenerative braking, energy efficiency and charging. We are not critical of the current course. The current course has never needed to cater for technology that doesn't exist, but it's apparent it's going to need to adapt for electrification.
Another part of this is that the rules around trucking and fatigue will also change. We had to request an exemption from Waka Kotahi, because currently, refuelling time of a truck is not allowed to be classed as rest time for the driver. However, in the case of an electric truck, it takes some time to charge 138kWh of batteries on a 50kW "rapid" charger.
To Waka Kotahi's credit, they were willing to be flexible, so Euan could take his rest hours while charging the truck. We largely charged the truck hour on, then hour off for the trip down from Christchurch to Cromwell,. This meant a huge amount of rest time for Euan, and ultimately meant we could drive for 13 hours a day.
The Trip from Christchurch to Cromwell
We may get corrected here, but I think this is the longest trip done in New Zealand by a fully electric truck, and therefore this is a milestone in itself. It's quite the ordeal to figure out logistics of driving an electric truck with limited range over 500km through rural NZ with a limited charging network.
The solution offered to us was to put the truck on a diesel transporter and ship it down, but to us that would be greenwashing and completely defeating the purpose of promoting the adoption of electric technology. We would emit more carbon getting the truck to Cromwell than we would spend saving carbon while it was here!
We also had to avoid the Lindis Pass. I'm not sure why there is no electric charging infrastructure in Tarras, but that's a real problem for any shorter range EV!
Electric truck trip details
Total distance: 507km - not the most direct route, as we opted to avoid the Lindis pass because there is no charging infrastructure in Tarras. It seems absurd that there are no charging facilities there.
Total kWh used: 317kWh
Average kWh per 100km: 62kWh.
Total cost at ChargNet sites: $192.44 (at an average of 60c per kWh)
Trip down had a 1T load of orchard equipment we purchased in Christchurch.
Estimated diesel saved is 125L or $312.50 at $2.50 per litre (price on date of trip)
Road user charges saved $87.59 ($172 per 1000km)
335kg of carbon saved (2.68kg of CO2e per litre of diesel)
Time spent charging 7.75 hours
Time spent driving 7.5 hours
Average moving speeding 70km/h
As you can see, the trip cost, in terms of energy, administration and carbon, was lower, but not low enough to convince a business to make the switch. This was especially because we were unable to get the trip completed in a day due to reaching the ceiling of how long Euan was allowed to be on the road for before needing to sleep.
ChargeNet is too expensive and not designed for trucks
I don't want to discredit ChargeNet, because the business they have created has contributed significantly to the adoption of EVs within NZ. This whole trip and project would have also been impossible without them, but let's be honest - they charge far too much to make EVs truly an economical solution to fossil fuels, and are often the only option.
We get that we need to pay for infrastructure, but when the wholesale price of energy is 0.01c per kWh during this trip, and their huge purchasing power with retailers should mean they can offer better rates than 80c per kWh.
Put it simply, saving $100 in energy costs on a 500km trip is not enough to make electric trucking commercial, considering the costs of labour units and accommodation.
Faster charging and more accessible charging stations would help improve the efficiency of other costs and therefore have a positive effect. Tesla charging platforms offer cheaper per kWh charge for considerably faster speeds. It makes you ask where all that rind is going, especially with such a strong desire from government to increase EV adoption.
Much of the time, charging stations were in pointy little corners of super market carparks, or an area that simply does not fit trucks. Our solution was a DC extension cord!
You can see the issue in the photos above. We even had to ask an ICE driver to move after explaining what needed to be done. He was awesome though, he was super into it and got a free tour of the cab, which he was thrilled with.
DC Extension Cord for ChargeNet stations
To get around the issue of limited space around charging stations, we asked James from EV-Lution in Dunedin to build us a 10m long CSS extension cord that Blackwell's kindly offered to pay for. This cord cost around $5000 and is much more complicated than most would imagine.
The fact that you can't buy these extension cords is saying something.
It took them quite a few weeks to figure out how to do it. The design is simple, but getting the gear required importing parts from around the world.
Wind Resistance - the real range killer
For those physics nerds out there, wind resistance is CV^2 where V is velocity. The faster you go, the exponentially more wind resistance you create, and the more energy you consume. To get the most out of a truck from an energy vs time perspective, we found that driving at 70km/h was the optimum speed.
It leads to interesting questions about whether trucks will be shaped more like fast trains in the future. The drag created by a traditional shaped truck is immense.
To give you an example, at 90km/h (max legal speed) about 150km, but at 70km we could easily get that range to 200km+.
The massive benefit with AC Charging
Where this truck came into its own was when we used it for local operations here in Cromwell. Taking our cherries down the road to the pack-house, helping other growers with their harvests, and also doing a range of local errands.
In total, we put 828kWh of energy into the truck (charging over 3 phase power) to drive approximately 1704kms (47.6kWh per 100km) with a range of load sizes, speeds and winds, which we didn't record because that's probably too granular for the purposes of demonstration.
Now this is where we are a little different. Forest Lodge is on a wholesale spot price with Simply Energy, and we have a large solar array (45kW), meaning the average price we paid per kWh of energy we put into the truck was $0.006 per kWh (yes, you read that correctly, that's half a cent per kilowatt hour). This means the grand total for the 828kWh is only $5.00, or one coffee or half a pint of IPA.
The diesel version of this truck consumes around 25L per 100km. We can now theoretically compare prices across the board for these 828kWh of consumption.
Diesel Costs: $1000 (plus an additional $292 in RUCs) and 1.1T of CO2e
Standard Retail (25c per kWH): $207 (20% diesel cost)
Solar + Wholesale rate: $5
The Overall Conclusion
For local deliveries, if you can avoid diesel and ChargeNet, there is huge operational cost and carbon that can be saved with an e-Truck.
This truck was a one-off conversion by Blackwells funded by EECA, and we are not aware of the conversion costs (although one-off conversions are definitely not cheap). We know, we are currently converting a 1990 Hilux!
There was so much interest from the public, with dozens of drivers going for a test drive. The general consensus is that it was a pleasure to drive, no noise, no vibrations, and regen braking was an excellent replacement to engine braking.
We even had Haydon Paddon take the truck for a bit of a drift in our yard. He thought it handled brilliantly.