The 2019 ACT Expo highlighted that advancements in electric vehicles (EVs) are a topic of growing discussion across the nation. Many policymakers, sustainability groups, and consumers feel strongly that the evolution of EVs and electric trucks (used interchangeably in this post) will answer air quality problems that many regions across the nation are battling. Although electric trucks have a compelling value proposition for some applications, they also come with a lengthy list of concerns, especially for heavy-duty trucking. Below are some of the questions that are top of mind for these organizations.
1. how will a transition to EVs impact my budget?
One of the first questions many fleets have is what will a transition cost me: initially and annually? Below are a few categories fleets should consider as they begin to draft a budget.
- Vehicle Costs: The incremental cost of EVs versus traditional vehicles has proven to come with a much higher sticker price. Government funding is available in many regions to reduce the incremental cost; however, it is not yet available in all regions. Other organizations are questioning what the residual value will be—what kind of resale market will exist?
- Fuel/Energy Costs: Electricity is thought to be one of the most affordable fuel choices, but is it really? While alone, the commodity cost may be, but as you factor in other factors such as capital recovery items and a potential energy tax, there are more factors to keep in mind. Many are questioning if as demand for electricity increases with the adoption of more EVs, will prices rise? And how will seasonality and weather changes impact pricing?
- Infrastructure Costs: A charging network will need to be built out, but what portion of this cost will fleets be responsible for versus the government-funded portion? Fleets must also consider time. How long will charging take and what driver downtime is associated with this process? As batteries age, will longer, more frequent charging be necessary?
- Maintenance Costs: There unarguably are fewer components that can fail in electric engines, but still some type of maintenance will be necessary. The largest variance in maintenance will likely be the resources needed: different technician skill sets and diagnostic tools. Additionally, what costs will be associated with replacement batteries: both the purchase and disposal?
2. are evs an environmental “win” for transportation?
EVs are known for their zero emissions benefits, but the important footnote is that “zero emissions” only encompass tailpipe emissions: not well-to-wheel (WTW) emissions. The difference may seem trivial, but the results are significant. Tailpipe emissions only measure a fuel’s emissions as it is used in a vehicle. WTW emissions factor in those generated both during fuel production and use in a vehicle.
Other alternative fuels such as renewable natural gas (RNG) can offer greater emission savings than EVs when WTW emissions are compared. Yes, EVs will make a stronger immediate impact on challenged air quality districts, but from a national and even global perspective, it simply isn’t living up to the “zero emissions” tagline it’s known for.
Why is this? What is contributing to emissions during the production phase of EVs? Simple—the electricity used to power EVs. Approximately half of the electricity generated by the United States still comes from coal-fired power plants which constrain EV’s emission benefits. Even when you factor renewable energy into the emission equation in place of coal, renewable natural gas is still the cleaner fuel due to emissions saved during production that otherwise would have gone into the atmosphere. So the question remains, which kind of zero emissions should fleets be striving for? Tailpipe or WTW?
3. Can the grid really handle heavy-duty EV demand?
This is one of the most divided or maybe unknown questions. Many say no, some say eventually, yes. Additional demand from passenger vehicles is one thing, but as heavy-duty fleets start pulling electricity, the grid (without upgrades) could face significant challenges. And it’s not simply making more electricity. One must also consider what kind of transmission upgrades will be necessary to get more power to high-demand areas, at the right times. Many fleets question how fast the grid will be upgraded to ensure fleet operations go uninterrupted. And one of the larger inquiries is who will fund these upgrades?
In summary, many questions remain pertaining to the future of electric trucks, especially within heavy-duty trucking applications. Over time, EVs may be appropriate, but still much work needs to be done before these expectations become reality. As a fleet, what should you do in the meantime? Should you pass on existing technology until EVs figure themselves out? Or perhaps consider a transition to another alternative fuel? Reach out—as a polyfuel provider, we’re committed to helping you determine what the best short- and long-term fueling plan is for your fleet.