Engineering profs team with local greenhouse to reimagine electric grid distribution

Peter Quiring, president and CEO of Nature Fresh Farms, with UWindsor engineering professor Rupp Carriveau at one of the company’s facilities in Leamington.

A team of UWindsor engineering researchers envisions a future where electric transport trucks can deliver more than goods.

While loading or unloading zero emission trucks, why not transfer electrons too? The road-bound big rigs can deliver electricity to companies in need to extend the limits of the electrical grid at high-peak hours.

It’s a scenario Rupp Carriveau and Hanna Maoh are mapping out in partnership with MitacsIndependent Electricity System Operator360 Energy, and Leamington-based greenhouse grower, Nature Fresh Farms.

“Let’s say a truck is done for the day and still has an 80 per cent charge,” Dr. Carriveau explains. “That truck can deliver electrons to a nearby company that’s going to be hit with some penalties for having a high draw on the grid — maybe for the lights in a greenhouse or an electric press machine in a warehouse.”

If the truck charged up with low-cost electrons during off-peak hours, it could sell them at a lower cost to industry, adds Carriveau, director of UWindsor’s Environmental Energy Institute.

The overarching goal of the $160,000 study is to determine the impact of long-haul electric vehicles on Ontario’s electric grid. Drs. Maoh and Carriveau will create an archetypal routing network that examines the path of every major long-haul truck in Ontario. Focusing on a handful of key routes, they will then overlay the electric grid and determine how the grid can manage a fleet of electric trucks.

“At local scales, electric vehicles are already affecting the grid,” Carriveau says. “Many distribution utility companies aren’t set up for the additional loads on the grid,” let alone a fleet of trucks, which can each draw as much as 10 times the amount of a passenger vehicle.

Maoh notes the Ontario highway network is one of the busiest in North America, with thousands of long-haul trucks moving through daily.

“We will leverage big data analytics methods that we developed at the Traffic Lab in the Cross-Border Institute to identify the best locations for charging stations,” he says.

The research team will simultaneously conduct a case study with the help of Nature Fresh Farms to examine opportunities in the greenhouse sector.

“We thought, what if when an electric truck backs in to load up Nature Fresh Farms fresh produce, it loads up electrons as well,” Carriveau says. “So Nature Fresh Farms charges the truck, loads up the produce and then the truck unloads at Loblaws and the electrons at a neighboring warehouse or transport hub?”

Nature Fresh Farms will provide the team with hard data from its operations, including pick-up and delivery schedules, power use, and its peak hours and utility costs, to fully understand strengths and weaknesses of converting its fleet to electric vehicles.

The team is discussing the possibility of a pilot project with Nature Fresh Farms using real electric long-haul vehicles.