HummingbirdEV electrifies Central Valley with zero emission big rigs

Amid a transition to zero emission vehicles to reduce pollution, an EV company sends electric vehicles to Reedley

LIVERMORE, CALIF. – HummingbirdEV released semi trucks to a company that sits at the agricultural epicenter of California. 

In November of this year, HummingbirdEV announced that they would be delivering all-electric big rigs equipped with a Transport Refrigeration Unit (eTRU) to Moonlight Companies. Moonlight Companies is tucked away in the small agricultural town of Reedley, Calif. and supplies various fruits to businesses around the globe.

Moonlight grows, harvests and packs their assortment of fruits, such as citrus, grapes, cherries, kiwifruit, pomegranates and stone fruits. The fruit is hand-picked and sent to their multi-million dollar packing facility, and from there it is sent off into the world. This will be the first time Moonlight uses electric refrigerated trucks for their agricultural commodities. 

On the flip side, HummingbirdEV is one of few companies that specialize in 100% electric heavy-duty vehicles, and this is the first of five units Hummingbird is building and testing in real-world agriculture transportation. 

Each zero-emission refrigerated truck from Hummingbird can be used to transport up to 24,000 lbs. of agricultural commodities, such as crops and dairy. According to the Hummingbird’s press, the eTRU truck has been designed for agricultural transport. Maintenance on the vehicles is also significantly less on electric trucks due to the motor, which has no moving parts, according to Rakesh Koneru, the chief operating officer for Hummingbird.

Project Clean Air, Inc. partially funded the electric truck units for Moonlight through a grant that came from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which comes from the California Climate Investments (CCI) “Net-Zero Farming and Freight Facility Demonstration Project.” The remainder of the funding is provided by HummingbirdEV and its project partners. This initiative is one of many from CARB’s commitment to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order that calls for only zero emission vehicles to hit the road by 2035. 

At first, the order was to remove all vehicles from the roads, but that extended to big rigs after CARB began developing a new regulation called Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) in November. This regulation would phase out all medium to heavy duty vehicles including the largest big rigs on the road, and replace them with zero emission trucks. 

AG & ENERGY CONCERNS

The transition to electric big rigs has many agricultural stakeholders concerned. On Oct. 27, CARB held a board meeting where ACF was at the top of their agenda, and they opened the floor to public comment. Over 150 people, many being agriculture owners and growers, voiced their concerns about how the new regulation will affect trucking companies that transport perishable agricultural commodities. 

“Agricultural commodities are perishable in nature, which this regulation does not take into account. Livestock, fruits and vegetables need to be transported in a timely manner to ensure food and animal safety,” California Farm Bureau’s representative Katie Little said during the meeting.

Little stated that a majority of farmers and livestock workers live in rural areas where there is limited access to the electric infrastructure that ACF requires. The time needed to charge vehicles could “jeopardize food security and availability,” according to Little. 

The trucks can drive up to 140 miles per charge. Electric big rigs, though, contrast heavily with diesel rigs. The average big rig that is typically used to transport agricultural commodities can travel up to 600 miles with a 120-gallon tank, and longer distance trucks with two 150-gallon tanks could travel up to 1,500-miles, according to Freight Waves, a global supply chain market intelligence company. 

Additionally, to fill up your gas tank as a big rig operator, it takes around 10 minutes on average, but to charge your electric semi, the fastest charging system available takes 30 minutes to get to an 80% charge. 

“One thing that can help is timing of the charge of the electric vehicles,” Gabriela Ornelas, from the Southern California Edison Company (SCE), said. “The grid does have the [energy] capacity, but we do encourage customers to charge their electric vehicles at a time when there’s plenty of capacity on the system.”

Ornelas said that anyone using an EV should avoid charging them during peak hours when energy demand would be the highest, and suggested customers charge their vehicles at night while they slept. Additionally, if there ever was a power outage, Ornelas said that diesel vehicles would also be affected along with EV, as gas stations also rely on energy in order to pump gas.

“If there is a time when there are outages, gasoline stations wouldn’t be affected similarly,” Ornelas said. “We encourage folks that do have electric vehicles to make sure that they always have some charge to their vehicle so that they may never get stranded without energy.”

Dr. Pacheco Werner, co-director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State, also questioned how infrastructure would look at the public hearing, as the energy grid through the San Joaquin Valley, which Werner noted had a large amount of trucking transportation due to the area’s agricultural nature, does not appear to have robust capacity to handle charging the fleets.

Ornelas said that SCE is confident that the grid will be able to handle an increase in EV adoption. Currently, SCE is investing $5 billion every year to upgrade the grid, and their storage capacity as of right now sits at 3.6 gigawatts, but in order to reach a carbon free economy statewide, the state will need 10 gigawatts of energy storage by 2030 and 30 gigawatts by 2045. However, SCE is just one of many utility services in the state.

“This is precisely what we have been planning for; we have been advocating for electric vehicles for many years,” Ornelas said. “We have long term planning processes in place to help us make those investments so that we can provide the energy that our customers need as they start incorporating more clean energy into their lives.”

To reach the energy storage capacity needed to accommodate for the zero emission transition, SCE also works with the state and other electric power companies, like PG&E, to reach a common goal of clean energy, according to Ornelas.

This isn’t the first time zero emission vehicles were deployed to the valley by CARB, though. The Valley Air District took action Feb. 21 of this year and accepted over $36.5 million in California Energy Commission (CEC) and CARB funding to deploy the trucks and build the technology needed to keep them charged. They were deployed at an Albertsons distribution center in Tracy and a Pepsi manufacturing facility in South-Central Fresno. Pepsi, who reduced their Modesto fleet’s emissions by 53% by utilizing zero and near-zero emission technology in 2020, is also an investor in the plans.

BREATHE OF “FRESH” AIR

The transition to electric semis is coming at a time when the central valley is experiencing air and environmental challenges. A climate change assessment released by researchers from UC Merced in January highlighted how the Central Valley bears the brunt of many major environmental warming impacts, including exceptionally poor air quality. 

The region’s bowl-shaped geography tends to trap particulate matter in the air, which then hovers at ground level until the rain washes it out. Inhaling particulate matter over long periods of time can cause health concerns like asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Populations here, often predominantly low-income Hispanic and Latino communities, are more likely to experience health concerns and an overall lower quality of life due to poor air quality and other effects of climate change.

John X. Mataka, who was with the Valley Improvement Projects and also with the Grace and Neighborhood Council, had echoed this sentiment, and voiced his support of the regulation due to living in a disadvantaged community, where the effects of pollution due to the various trucking hubs are affecting residents. He also stated that the people of his community could greatly benefit from jobs that are created from building charging infrastructure.

David Clegern from CARB said heavy-duty truck emissions play a large role in the pollution, as well as smoke from fires. Ozone levels, which is smog pollution, is also extremely high, but soot takes the cake when it comes to the Valley’s unclean air, according to the American Lung Association.

Not only that, but the ALA report shows that pollution also disproportionately affects areas that are poverty-stricken or have a large population of people of color. In the report, people of color were 61% more likely to experience poor air quality than their white counterparts. In Tulare County, there are roughly 468,680 people, and 341,854 of them are people of color, according to ALA data. The disparities in air quality is partly due to living in areas where agriculture and trucking businesses are plentiful, but is a very complex issue that has many causes, according to a study from the ALA. 

Black communities are more likely to be affected by poor air quality, with Hispanic and Asian communities trailing closely behind. Though poor air quality is commonly associated with low-income areas, the ALA found that even among upper class minority communities there was still poor air quality in comparison to white communities.

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