The electrification of road freight has great potential, but there are some big gaps that first have to be bridged. Writing for IRENA, Dolf Gielen, Francisco Boshell, Guy Lentz and Sita Holtslag explain what needs to be done to ensure that the technological advances and cost reductions happening at the forefront of e-mobility are quickly delivered onto our roads. To illustrate the problem: in Europe over half of road freight is transported less than 500km, a distance that can be covered with battery technology available today without recharging. Yet most electric delivery vans have shorter ranges. The authors run through the numbers and summarise the issues that need addressing: battery manufacturing capacity, emissions-free electricity supply, power sector coupling, managing peak loads, smart charging, fast charging, charge point availability, high performance batteries (for long-range heavy duty trucks), market incentives. The good news is that in the last ten years, battery cell cost have declined by 95% to $122/kWh and will fall further. That’s why, in many places, the Total Cost of Ownership is now lower for electric delivery vans than for diesel. But for electric vehicles to take off, declining battery costs alone won’t be enough.
This summer the market value of Tesla has exceeded that of the next three car makers combined. That may be excessive but it points to very high investor expectations regarding electromobility. Forecasts indicate 2.9 million electric vehicles will be sold in 2020, more than 5% of all cars sold worldwide in 2020. What is new is that Europe has become the largest electric vehicle market in the world in 2020, thanks to generous government support programmes for EV and high fossil fuel taxes, in combination with a global car sales slump.
Today worldwide 200 GWh of annual battery production capacity is operational with another 100 GWh capacity that has been committed. To put that in perspective, global renewable power additions amounted to 170 GW in 2019, so batteries manufacturing capacity equals nearly two hours of storage for all new renewable generation capacity.
The trend is clear and continued progress of battery performance will entrench this transition: the range will continue to increase while charging times will continue to decrease. Battery cell cost have declined by 95% during the past decade to 122 USD/kWh, and further cost reductions are foreseen. That cost reduction will further strengthen the case for electromobility.
So far limited attention has been focused on road freight transportation, despite the fact that this sector accounts for 2.9 Gt tailpipe CO2 emissions per year. Driven by technology progress and changing policy priorities, this is changing now.
In Europe more than 50% of freight is transported less than 500 kilometres. This is a distance that can be bridged with batteries today without recharging. Yet most electric delivery vans that are in operation today have shorter ranges.
Initially delivery vans for in-city delivery will go electric (see announcements of Amazon, DHL and others). There is a strong economic case. Already today the Total Cost of Ownership is lower for electric delivery vans than for diesel delivery vans in some jurisdictions. The gap will only widen into the future.
Some hesitation remains how electrification, natural gas, biofuels or hydrogen options will play out for trucks and significant development efforts continue in all these areas. We think that there is a strong case that also trucks will be largely electrified in the coming decades. The main reason is that they can benefit from the technology learning effects and economies of scale that come with growing car battery production. While electric truck cost today considerably exceed those for diesel trucks, cost are projected to fall rapidly once deployment starts to ramp up.
Europe is not alone in this development. California has also ambitious plans for electrification of its freight fleet and across the US a 54,000 heavy duty electric truck fleet is foreseen by 2025 (still a small number in comparison to a total commercial vehicle fleet of 150 million units). Today most electric trucks can be found in China, which is leading in segments such as electric garbage collection trucks. BYD is replacing 15,000 trucks used in Shenzhen in the near future, following the 60,000 of electric light-trucks and vans over the past 3 years. Approximately 35% of Shenzhen total fleet of urban delivery vehicles is electric.
Long range heavy duty trucks
Some technical challenges remain. High performance batteries will be critical for long-range heavy duty applications. Fast charging solutions will be needed, including MW scale chargers but also new battery technologies that can deal with fast charging. The heavy duty market segment will transition last but many OEM are positioning themselves for the transition. Analysis suggests that in Europe depot charging will continue to dominate in the commercial segment (Table 1).
Power Sector Coupling needed
A Pentalateral (now consisting of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland) ministerial meeting last year concluded that there is ample attention for EV sales and recharging infrastructure, but limited attention for the power sector coupling aspects. With a fleet of around 6.5 million HDV on European roads today, if 30% were electric they would consume around 125 TWh per year, which is around 4.5% of total electricity generated in Europe. Such an increase in additional renewable generation, around 50 to 75 GW of wind and PV capacity, seems feasible. But the charging profile needs to match the supply profile.
If 30% of Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs) manufactured in the EU were to be electric by 2030, that would result in a European production of more than 150,000 e-HDV per year. With a battery capacity of 0.55 MWh per e-HDV, as for the Daimler eCascadia’s class 8 HDV, it would require a yearly 82.5 GWh additional battery manufacturing capacity.
Another aspect to consider is the peak load on local electricity grids. There are several charging technologies being tested for e-HDV, with capacities ranging between 250 kW and 900 kW. There is not yet harmonisation among standards and communication protocols.
Some companies suggest that the market requires capacities for charging up to 3 MW per charging point. The peak load of a European household is around 0.7 kW (evening peak). Using a 1MW charging point, an e-HDV would represent the peak load of around 1,500 households. Depending on the simultaneity of charging several e-HDV at a time (in depot or rest areas, for example), it would be a major stress for the local grid resulting in significant infrastructure reinforcement investment. More work is needed to understand what a ‘smart charging’ approach for e-HDV may look like to avoid such an issue. This topic will be discussed at the forthcoming IRENA Innovation Week.
Of course, electromobility only makes sense if it is combined with carbon free renewable power supply. At the same time vehicle charging can add flexibility that enables integration of higher shares of solar PV and wind. Smart charging strategies and proper market price incentives are needed to foster such deployment.
A series of events have been organised by the TDA, EV100/The Climate Group and CALSTART/Drive to Zero to discuss zero-emission freight vehicles demand and supply in the specific regions of North America, India and Europe. IRENA cooperates in the organisation of the next Pentalateral ministerial forum on electric trucks, scheduled for 22 October. The German EU Presidency is planning an electric freight policy summit a week later. The series of events indicates that this fall will be important for the future of electric trucks in Europe.
Guy Lentz is the Co-ordinator for EU and International Energy Policies for Luxembourg
Sita Holtslag is a Senior Advisor Sustainable Mobility, Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO.nl, Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA)
- Out of a fleet of 40-45 million commercial vehicles in total ↑