Truckers start turning to shorepower technology to weather the hot and cold they face at the end of the day
It gets cold in Wyoming. And I mean really, really cold.
In the state’s second largest city, Casper, the temperature stays below freezing for 189 days every year, on average. The city’s average low temperature runs 14 degrees in December and January, and only 16 in February.
Like I said, really, really cold.
And that’s a problem for trucker and OOIDA member Tim Kessler.
“I do a dedicated route,” Kessler said. “I go basically from Denver to Casper and back every day, and my days end up being in Casper.”
Tim could idle his truck. He says that in his experience, Wyoming doesn’t have a lot of idling bans.
But running costs were on his mind. Yes, the fuel to idle, but also running time on the engine.
“If you’re looking at a gallon an hour, and you figure $4 a gallon fuel, you’re talking $40 a night to sit there and have the truck run to stay warm or to stay cool,” he said. “And I already spent a whole bunch of money with Caterpillar going through the motor.”
“I really didn’t want to have to do it again because of that.”
So Tim Kessler started looking for an alternative. Something that could keep his truck warm in that winter weather, something to cool in the summer, something that would operate when the keys are in the “off” position. He also needed that alternative to be something that would be available along his regular, dedicated run, something that would be there when he stopped.
And after some looking, he found it.
“One day, I was going into the Eastgate Travel Plaza there in Evansville, which is a suburb of Casper, and they had a sign up. They had Shorepower,” Kessler said. “I’m thinking, ‘that’s a really neat idea.’”
Tim’s not alone in thinking that shorepower is a neat idea. More and more truckers are looking at that type of system to cut down their idling time, and it’s becoming more common along America’s highways.
Shorepower sounds like something you would find along a lake or ocean. Alan Bates, of the company Shorepower, says that’s no coincidence.
“The name comes from the marine industry, where a boat would pull up at the shore, plug in and basically be able to use grid-based power to power their on-board systems,” Bates said. “Since then, that name really has become synonymous with any form of plug-in capability, whether that be on a boat or an RV or a long-haul truck.”
The idea is one that fits well with the current demands of trucking – especially the wide proliferation of idling bans.
Every year, Land Line Magazine publishes a guide to idling laws across the country. Last year’s guide listed idling restrictions or bans in all or parts of 31 states. And every year, the number, variety and complexity of those laws increases.
Most diesel trucks burn about a gallon of fuel an hour idling. With the typical 10-hour rest period and fuel at $4 a gallon, that means $40 a night in fuel. For the typical trucker who spends 200 nights or more away from home each year, that could amount to $8,000 or more every year in idling fuel costs.
APUs – auxiliary power units – and other on-truck idling alternatives help, but many still burn fuel, and other truckers may complain about the exhaust they create, despite its being far less than a full-size diesel engine.
Alan Bates says shorepower technology offers another, cheaper alternative.
“To power a cab in an overnight rest period on electricity is and always will be significantly cheaper than running on oil,” he said. That’s especially true, he added, “when the price of oil fluctuates, as we’ve seen over the past five to 10 years. You have a crisis, the price spikes, and everybody starts looking for solutions.”
Tim Kessler says that was his experience as well.
“I … haven’t put a pencil to it, but I’ve saved at least a couple of 300 dollars probably since just the first of the year,” Kessler said.
So if it’s cheaper and it works so well, why isn’t shorepower everywhere?
Well, a few reasons. And first among them is that you have to install it at locations like truck stops, where truckers are parking overnight.
In fact, Alan Bates says early studies showed that while the technology was clearly viable, it needed to be built out in order to make it effective.
Shorepower –not the technology, but the company – has been working on that problem.
“By the time that all of our sites are completed, which is this current phase, we’ll have 63 locations in about 30 states,” Bates said. “We’re covering I-5 pretty much north to south, a good chunk of I-95 north to south, I-80, I-70, I-10, I-20, and a number of the other feeder interstates. So we have a fairly good footprint.
“We know that there are about 5,000 locations in the country where trucks park,” he added. “That includes truck stops, rest areas and things like that. Sixty-three is certainly just a small number. However, once this system starts to take hold, we believe it will be as commonplace as wireless Internet.”
Tim Kessler says that he’s had little problem finding shorepower along his dedicated route.
“They’re getting more of them,” he said. “There’s one in Johnson’s Corner there in Colorado, and that’s basically on the route.
“They are few and far between, but they’re getting there. You’re starting to see more of them popping up.”
Bates says that building his company’s system isn’t too expensive. Essentially, they put in a post or pedestal at each parking space along the periphery of a truck stop parking lot.
However, that leads to the second problem that has to be overcome: ensuring that trucks are equipped to use shorepower – the technology, not the company this time.
In fact, many – if not most – new trucks come equipped to use the technology. And even if they don’t, Bates says it can be installed.
More elaborate systems can run in the thousands, but a simple installation can run as little as $50, or even as little as the cost of a power strip, an extension cord and a slightly open window to run the cord into the truck.
Once Tim Kessler had electricity flowing into his truck, keeping warm in those Wyoming winters was a simple matter.
“I’ve got a little 1,500-watt ceramic electric heater, and I can plug it in and turn it on,” Kessler said. “I’ve had it down into the teens, and that little heater’s kept the truck warm.”
He’s planning on a similar system come summer time.
“This summer, I’m going to get like a standalone type apartment type (air conditioning) unit that I can put in the truck, and it’ll just take the place of the electric heater for the summer,” he said. “They make the ones that have the vent hose, like you would have in the apartment, where you would just stand the air conditioner up in the room.”
Just as truckers have a choice between elaborate, built-in shorepower connections for their trucks or a simple extension cord, truckers can either follow the same path Kessler took, or they can get more elaborate, finding heating and air conditioning systems that can be built into the cab.
One trucker who tried that method is OOIDA Life Member Gary Green of Stanhope, Iowa.
“It’s a unit made by RV products out of Wichita, Kansas,” Green said. “They are a major player in the air conditioning/heating units for RVs and for trucks. They have developed a back-wall unit that solves all the problems of what we need for 110 volts, air conditioning and heating.”
He added that the unit “satisfies the requirements that the states are asking us to do.”
Green says the unit is installed by cutting two small holes in the back of the sleeper. The main unit is mounted on the back, with the air return going through one hole, and the heated or air conditioned air going back into the sleeper through the other. The installation, he says, was easy and effective.
But even with the wall mount unit, you still need the juice.
Setting up to use Shorepower to provide that juice was an easy experience for Green as well.
Bates’ company enables customers to reserve a spot online before they ever arrive at a truck stop. That offers a kind of double advantage. The trucker not only can get power to avoid idling, but also has a reserved parking space, which is a very hot commodity in some parts of the country.
Gary took a moment and went through the procedure verbally.
“I go online if I’m in an area, check to see the availability, or if they have their pedestals in the area,” he said.
Once he’s done that, he simply reserves the parking spot on the website.
“When I get there, the parking spot is there,” Green said. “All I do is go in, insert my card that they provide, and it subtracts from … my money that I’ve set aside to use.
“Say for instance, if I put a hundred dollars in, and I use $10 worth. Well, it subtracts 10 dollars from my account. So I don’t ever have to worry about running out of money – just as long as I keep the card loaded.”
Some people in trucking are skeptical about shorepower.
After all, other companies had tried providing shorepower-like services in the past, and it didn’t always turn out well.
The initial version of Idle Aire offered power, heating, cooling, Internet access, TV and so on. It also required a significant initial investment in equipment at truck stop locations where it was offered. And government grants paid for most of that buildout.
While the new version of IdleAir – a different company with a name that sounds the same but is spelled different – is doing far better, it still is trying to do way more than simple shorepower.
The equipment used by Shorepower – the company – doesn’t take up nearly as much space or require nearly so much equipment, and is relatively easy to maintain. In fact, once the pedestals are installed, the company’s web-based reservation system allows them to conceivably operate without personnel at each location.
All that leads to a little impatience on the part of potential customers.
“Most people that we talk to say ‘Wow, why hasn’t that come before, why isn’t it already here?’” Bates said. “A lot of people have seen it over the years at RV parks, one of the more common consumer applications. And really it’s just a lot of chicken and egg. You have to build this infrastructure that allows these guys to go take advantage of this power.”
But for truckers like Tim Kessler and Gary Green, the real issue isn’t buildout or the cost to Shorepower to make that happen.
It’s the number of dollar bills in their wallet at the end of the day. And for Green, shorepower is one way to make that number bigger.
“Cost efficiency is the main thing,” Green said. “It’s the bottom line.
“You don’t have any problems; you just plug into it. It’s a win-win situation.”
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