Electric heavy trucks will soon be economically ready to compete with diesel trucks as battery technology continues improving, according to a new study. This could help address the growing carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which currently accounts for 14% of the global annual emissions.
Some researchers have long argued that electric trucks wouldn’t be able to match the costs of diesel ones because of the extra batteries needed for freight. More weight is less efficiency so electric trucks just can’t be better, some claimed. But this isn’t necessarily the case, according to a study by the Sweden-based think tank the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). A change, as they say, is a-coming.
“A tipping point is in sight for electric trucks,” Björn Nykvist, lead author and a senior researcher at SEI, said in a statement. “Battery technology is very close to a threshold that makes electric trucks feasible and economically competitive. All that is missing is one companion component: fast charging.”
Out of all the elements analyzed in the study, the availability of charging was seen as the most important to cover.
The researchers created a model where an electric truck operated for 4.5 hours and then charged for 40 minutes on a high-powered device. They found that the economics of the electric trucks per ton-kilometer improves with greater weight, driven by higher load capacity and increased energy savings as a function of weight.
The only problem is that the type of commercial fast chargers needed for the trucks don’t exist yet. It’s not as big a problem as it seems since the technology is just around the corner, but deploying them strategically will be quite the infrastructure challenge.
“If this infrastructure is put in place, it invalidates the old argument that electric trucks can’t match the range of diesel trucks. This makes electric trucks much more realistic,” Nykvist said in a statement. “A very heavy truck uses more diesel per kilometre than a lighter one, but that’s also a big savings potential if you can switch to electricity.”
Over the year, the availability of electric trucks in the US and Canada is expected to increase from over 70 models from two dozen manufacturers to at least 85 models from over 30 companies. This includes the Tesla semi, with pre-orders from Walmart, DHL, UP and PepsiCo, as well as electric vehicles from Arrival, Rivian and Nikola.
As manufacturers scale production, prices of vehicles are expected to come down. That’s also true for battery prices, which have declined 89% in the last decade and are expected to continue to fall. BloombergNEF’s annual Battery Price Survey found lithium-ion battery pack prices fell 13% in 2020 and will continue to do so.
This would help tackle the emissions of the transportation sector, which are on the rise. In the US alone, after a decline from their peak in 2005, transport emissions plateaued and have now risen every year since 2012. In 2016, the transport sector surpassed the electric power industry as the single greatest US emitter.