No Need to be Freightened of Electric Trucks
We clarify the questions about electric truck availability, cost, and charging infrastructure, as well as concerns such as current supply chain issues.
Even though only 10% of vehicles on US roads are medium- and heavy-duty trucks, they are responsible for the majority of hazardous air pollutants and nearly 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. This pollution disproportionately burdens low-income communities and communities of color and leads to deadly diseases such as asthma, cardiac impairments, and cancer.
Thankfully, six states—California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts—covering 20% of the US truck market have adopted the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule to require manufacturers to provide an increasing number of clean electric trucks.
Yet, questions remain about electric truck availability, cost, and charging infrastructure as well as concerns such as current supply chain issues. Let’s clarify these questions and address these concerns.
Are electric trucks commercially available?
Electric trucks are no longer a figment of the future. Today, there are dozens of medium- and heavy-duty electric truck models either already available or coming to market in the next few years. For medium-duty vehicles, such as pick-up trucks and delivery vans, 27 companies are manufacturing 48 different models. For heavy-duty vehicles, such as tractor-trailers and garbage trucks, 17 companies are manufacturing 29 different models. Moreover, manufacturers are constantly innovating and improving their trucks. For example, the second generation of the Volvo eVNR tractor-trailer can recharge to 80% in 90 minutes.
Is there enough demand to meet sales mandates?
There is no question of demand for electric trucks. Companies including Amazon, UPS, and FedEx have already preordered tens of thousands of electric vans and trucks. Plus, many utilities, municipalities, and other large companies like Ikea and Unilever have developed ambitious decarbonization goals for their fleets that will require significant procurement of electric trucks within the next few years. A recent survey of major corporate fleets showed overwhelming preference for electric vehicles and existing procurement plans to acquire 330,000 zero-emission vehicles in the next five years.
Aren’t electric trucks too expensive?
Many electric trucks and buses are already competitive on a total cost of ownership basis today thanks to fuel and maintenance cost savings—especially for aging fleets that are inefficient and need repair. The payback period to make up for the initial higher purchase price is 3-5 years—a fraction of an electric truck’s lifespan. Plus, the cost of electric trucks is plummeting as battery prices decline, economies of scale improve, and the technology matures. Consequently, electric trucks will be even more competitive with fossil fuel trucks by the time sales mandates begin. In fact, all but two segments of medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks are expected to reach lifecycle cost-parity with their fossil fuel equivalent by 2030.
Emission standards and targeted adoption
Should we use voluntary incentives and targeted adoption rather than emission standards while electric vehicle technology and infrastructure improve?
The ACT rule does not require fleets to purchase electric vehicles. It simply guarantees a minimum supply of electric vehicles, allowing fleets to decide if they don’t make sense for their operations. Over the next few years, as technology improves, fleets will become familiar with electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure will be built. This gradual growth is built into the ACT rule—annual sales requirements apply to broad truck categories and start low, giving manufacturers time to bring new electric truck and bus models to market, starting with more feasible to electrify vehicle classes. Also, incentives and mandates aren’t mutually exclusive, rather helpful complements to accelerate adoption of medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles in the near-term. That said, you can have all the incentives in the world but without actual electric vehicles available for sale, everything will just be preorders and good intentions.
Supply chains for vehicles and batteries
Are ACT requirements still achievable given supply chain constraints? Could bottlenecks result in manufacturer penalties?
The pandemic sent shockwaves through global supply chains. Thankfully, policymakers and the private sector are racing to untangle the current issues, which are unlikely to remain when the ACT rule comes into effect in several years. Plus, in response to requests from truck manufacturers, the rule accounts for unforeseen macroeconomic events by basing manufacturers’ annual electric vehicle sales requirements on sales from that year. This way, peaks or troughs in purchases have an immediate impact on the overall number of electric vehicles that a manufacturer must sell. If supply chain issues persist, sales requirements will decrease to reflect production challenges.
Won’t the ACT rule increase reliance on global battery supply chains that present national security risks?
Our current dependency on the global fossil fuel supply chain is a national security concern as well, but we don’t want to swap one dependency for another. Thankfully, numerous efforts are underway to decrease reliance on international battery and material procurement.
For example, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is funding and overseeing research that improves the robustness of clean energy supply chains and reduces reliance on foreign materials. DOE recently launched ReCell—their battery recycling research center—and awarded $30 million to similar projects focused on diversifying and scaling supply, reuse, and recycling of batteries and related minerals. DOE plans to make another $3 billion available in the coming months through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In addition to scaling battery recycling and reuse, 13 new battery plants will increase US production capacity from today’s 59 gigawatt hours to over 700 gigawatt hours by 2030.
Battery supply chain concerns are legitimate, and strong policies are needed to prevent clean energy supply chains from developing patterns of environmental degradation and human rights abuses characteristic to the fossil fuel industry.
Addressing edge cases
Aren’t electric vehicle fires more frequent and hazardous? Do they require additional firefighter training?
The idea that electric vehicles catch fire more frequently than traditional vehicles is a myth linked to disproportionate media coverage—electric vehicles are less prone to catching on fire than fossil fuel vehicles. Although electric vehicle fires may require more time and suppressants to completely cool the battery, current best practices recommend similar strategies, materials, and protection equipment as used in any vehicle fire. Further, the National Fire Protection Association provides access to their free Alternative Fuel Vehicles Emergency Field Guide and an online course for firefighters seeking suppression training for these vehicles. Emergency preparedness for new technologies is important, but the timeline and cost of this process should not be a bottleneck in ACT rule implementation.
Don’t electric vehicle batteries lose range in winter weather?
Just like with fossil fuel vehicles, cold weather can reduce electric vehicle efficiency. However, the popularity of electric vehicles in Iceland and Norway and a driver’s account of how his electric car kept him safe and warm while trapped in Virginia’s I-95 snowstorm catastrophe prove that weather-related challenges have solutions.
More than 60% of commercially available medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles have ranges that exceed average daily use by around 50%. Therefore, even with significant decreases in range due to extreme cold, available electric vehicles could still meet the average range needed for their use cases today. Plus, these numbers will only continue to improve with new battery technology and vehicle design. For example, electric truck manufacturer Rivian uses thermal control systems and battery preconditioning to maximize the cold weather range of their trucks.
What about vehicles with functions that rely heavily on power supplied from the engine like snowplows and fire trucks?
Adopting the ACT rule would by no means require that these advanced applications be converted right away but rather starts the process of transitioning to electric vehicles and encourages the development of technology to accommodate these difficult to electrify use cases.
Won’t all these new electric trucks make electricity demand greater than supply?
Studies strongly suggest that the electricity grid has the capacity to serve short-term electric vehicle load growth, and grid modifications and expansions needed for future load increases are already underway. For example, 46.1 gigawatts of mostly renewable electricity generation capacity are expected to come online by the end of 2022. Further, utilities, state entities, and stakeholders are starting to implement on-site generation, storage efficiency, and load management—including electric trucks as flexible storage. These non-wires solutions will reduce the magnitude of grid expansion needed. Preparing for changes in electricity demand is feasible, already underway, and could in fact lower consumer electricity prices by increasing grid utilization.
Shouldn’t we focus on improving charging infrastructure first?
Extensive charging infrastructure build out is already underway across the country. According to Atlas Public Policy, utility filings as of January 2022 plan for nearly $900 million investment in over 27,000 charging stations for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal provides an additional $7.5 billion to electric vehicle charging, $5 billion of which will be made available to states starting later this year. Further, adopting the ACT rule as soon as possible will give states leverage to secure more investments in charging infrastructure high-quality, in-state jobs. For example, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities justified plans to invest millions in electric truck and bus charging infrastructure based on the state’s adoption of the ACT rule.
States should adopt the ACT rule ASAP
The remaining states should waste no time adopting the ACT rule. A speedy adoption will help states clean up their air, protect public health, and unlock additional funding for charging infrastructure, while reducing fleet fuel and maintenance costs and stimulating the economy. The technology is available, the business case is here, and the time for states to act is now.