Are we about to enter the era of the electric truck?

The electric car market is seeing an exponential growth as sales exceeded 10 million units in 2022. The share of electric cars in total sales has more than tripled in three years, from around 4% in 2020 to 14% in 2022, and EV sales are expected to continue strongly through 2023 and in the following years.

As we know, electric vehicles are the key technology to decarbonise in the short-term road transport, a sector that accounts for over 15% of global energy-related emissions. But what about trucks and buses?

Tailpipe CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles have been increasing rapidly since 2000, with trucks accounting for more than 80% of this growth. Vehicle efficiency standards, together with efforts to improve logistics and operational efficiency, are needed to slow growing emissions. Heavy-duty vehicles emissions need to peak rapidly and start declining in the coming decade to reach Net Zero Scenario milestones. In 2022, according to IEA, the International Energy Agency, nearly 66 000 electric buses and 60 000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold worldwide, representing about 4.5% of all bus sales and 1.2% of truck sales worldwide. Where governments have committed to reduce emissions from public transport, such as in dense urban areas, electric bus sales reached higher shares; in Finland for example, electric bus sales accounted for over 65% in 2022.

Ambition with respect to electrifying heavy-duty vehicles is growing. In 2022, around 220 electric heavy-duty vehicle models entered the market, bringing the total to over 800 models offered by well over 100 OEMs. China continues to dominate production and sales of electric trucks and buses. In 2022, 54 000 new electric buses and an estimated 52 000 electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold in China, representing 18% and 4% of total sales in China and about 80% and 85% of global sales, respectively.

Around the world, a total of 27 governments have pledged to achieve 100% ZEV bus and truck sales by 2040 and both the United States and European Union have proposed stronger emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles – let’s delve deeper into these proposals.

The European way

In March 2023 the European Parliament and governments agreed on a new regulation, stating that public chargers for electric trucks will need to be provided at regular intervals along Europe’s primary and secondary motorways, and in major cities, under the new law. According to the Transport & Environment (T&E) European Federation, the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) removes a key obstacle to the EU setting more ambitious CO2 targets for trucks by ensuring there will be adequate public charging. The law also requires charging infrastructure for cars to keep pace with the number of EVs in each EU country.

By 2030, governments must provide at least 3,600 kW of truck charging capacity every 60 km along the EU’s primary motorways. On secondary motorways, at least 1,500 kW of truck charging capacity will need to be available every 100 km. By that year, charging hubs must be available in every major city, and there will need to be four charging stations in each designated ‘safe and secure truck parking area’.

T&E said the requirements mean there will be enough public charging to significantly increase the EU’s proposed CO2 reduction target in 2030 – which is key to driving the uptake of electric trucks. The EU Commission has proposed only a 45% cut in CO2 from new trucks sold in 2030, but the European Parliament and governments can increase that before the truck climate rules are finalised. The final AFIR law has gone through its formal adoption by the Council in July, and should enter into force in early 2024.

The American way

A few thousand of electric trucks and buses travel on US roads already. Now, with the California Air Resources Board’s passage of the Advanced Clean Fleets Rule and the new greenhouse gas standard for heavy-duty trucks passed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we will begin to see a significant switch from highly-polluting diesel trucks to zero-emission trucks.

The doubts that have slowed down such change are, as they often have been, about where all of the trucks will charge, and how the electric grid will serve that new electrical load. A sensible place to start—and indeed where most truck and bus charging will take place—is at the fleets’ depots. With some lead time, fleet operators can sort through all the issues arising from such changes to take advantage of the lower cost of ownership that many truck models offer now, or will over very soon in the future. Funding and tax credits available at the Federal and State level, as well as programs from electric utilities, can help with the upfront cost of truck and bus charging and further improve the total cost of ownership.

However, there is still a bit of a chicken and egg problem with the very high-powered (megawatt level) public charging for trucks needed. Long haul trucking operations may be interested in adopting electric models but are holding back for lack of very high-powered public charging. Meanwhile, would-be truck charging station owners might be holding back from investing significant amounts of money in such charging, uncertain how many users they will have. Another holdup has been the lack of a charging port standard for the megawatt power level charging.

But there is good news on this front: the industry expects to finalize the Megawatt Charging System in 2024, which would provide the specifications for everything, from the configuration of pins in the charging connector to the placement of the port on the tractor. Even at such high power, recharging the enormous batteries in long haul trucks will take some time. In many cases, that time will fit within the rest requirements for a truck driver’s work cycle, making use of time the truck would be parked anyway. The Task Force "Megawatt Charging System (MCS)" has been specifically focused on inventing a holistic system approach based on the Combined Charging System CCS. The CharIN Megawatt Charging System (MCS) Task Force represents the whole value chain of the Heavy-Duty Vehicles industry segment, which ensures that all perspectives are considered.

MCS Importance to Battery Electric Commercial Vehicle Industry

According to a white paper published by the MCS Task Force and the Charging Connections Focus Group of the CharIN Association, there are two key technologies to broad acceptance of battery electric commercial vehicles: increased range and decreased charge times. Charging time, which can be quantified as distance per time unit charged, should be considered across the fleet, and should also consider lost charging time due to delayed charging or even charging equipment issues. MCS offers the charge rate necessary to realize widespread adoption of battery electrification in the commercial vehicle market by increasing driving range gained per minute spent charging. MCS also offers improved robustness of communication, which will reduce downtime related to failed charging events.

The discussion within the CharIN Subgroup on this topic has been going on since 2018, and the first pilot tests have been successfully performed in May of 2023. Once the MCS standard is published in 2024, we will see great steps forward towards the decarbonization of road freight transport.

The momentum around the electrification of the transportation sector has undeniably been centred on passenger vehicles for the last few years. However, the statistics and commitments discussed in this article illuminate the growing traction in the heavy-duty vehicle sector. With an expanding range of models, ambitious governmental commitments, and ongoing initiatives to address infrastructure concerns, the era of the electric truck and bus is looming on the horizon. The European Union's forward-looking strategies to bolster charging infrastructure and the U.S.'s gradual shift, paired with developments like the Megawatt Charging System, underscore this evolution. As the transportation sector is pivotal in global decarbonization efforts, it is both heartening and essential to see this progress. Looking forward, as these frameworks are implemented and as technology advances, we can anticipate an even more rapid transition to electric heavy-duty vehicles, setting the stage for a more sustainable and cleaner future in road transport.

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