Existing grid infrastructure appears ready to handle an influx of electric commercial trucks, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Published in Nature Energy, the study looked at increased electric demand from trucks operating relatively short distances, as this appears to be the most feasible starting point for commercial-truck electrification, Brennan Bourlag, lead author of the study, said in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

Researchers modeled the potential demand on electricity substations using data from real-world (diesel) delivery fleets. Of the substations studied, about 80% to 90% could support fleets of up to 100 trucks without the need for significant upgrades, Bourlag said.

That's assuming fleets used the highest-available charging speeds, if they chose lower speeds, the need for infrastructure upgrades would be even less, he said. Getting trucks back on the road quickly will likely require megawatt-scale charging, meaning much greater power demand than current DC fast-charging sites for passenger cars.

Electric Island - Daimler Trucks North America and PGE - Portland OR

Electric Island - Daimler Trucks North America and PGE - Portland OR

The next step is electrifying long-haul semis. And for a mix of longer-distance delivery trucks and long-haul electric trucks, some companies have already begun modeling what the electric truck stop of the future could look like.

Portland General Electric and Daimler Trucks North America opened the first public United States charging site for heavy-duty electric vehicles earlier this year—Electric Island. A group of West Coast utilities have been collaborating to make I-5 an electric highway for commercial trucks.

However, it's still unclear when electric heavy-duty trucks will arrive in large numbers. A 2019 analysis found the the higher initial cost of long-haul electric semis didn't yet work out for fleets.

In June 2020, California mandated that manufacturers start selling electric trucks in 2024, and sell only electric trucks in the state by 2045, while 15 states signed an agreement in July 2020 aiming to make new medium-duty and heavy-duty electric trucks in their jurisdictions electric by 2050. That may help push prices down through economies of scale, possibly spurring adoption.