Advancements in electric vehicles (EVs) are a topic of discussion across the nation, especially at this year’s Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in California. 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 today, especially those in California.
Although electric trucks have a compelling value proposition for some applications, they also come with a lengthy list of concerns, especially for those fleets in heavy-duty trucking considering a transition. Below is a summary of fleet concerns.
1. What impact will a transition to EVs have on my transportation budget?
One of the first questions many fleets have is – what will a transition cost me, initially and annually thereafter? Listed below are a few categories fleets begin to dig into as they attempt to answer the cost savings question.
- Vehicle costs – Incremental costs of EVs verses traditional vehicles thus far has proven to come with a much higher sticker price. Of course, government funding is available in many regions to reduce the incremental cost, but not everywhere. Fleets are wondering what kind of transition costs they may be facing for heavy-duty electric trucks not yet deployed. Another vehicle-related question fleets have is residual value; what kind of resale market will exist, as they try to rough out an ROI.
- Fuel/energy costs – Electricity is thought to be one of the most affordable fuel choices – but is it really? The commodity cost alone may be, but likely other costs for heavy-duty fleets will be added, such as capital recovery items and potentially at some point, taxation. Further – as demand for electricity increases through adoption of EVs, will prices rise? Another question is focused on seasonality, or weather changes, and its impact on 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? The secondary part to infrastructure costs is time. How long will charging really take and what driver downtime is associated to this process? As batteries age, will longer, more frequent charging be necessary?
- Maintenance costs – There unarguably are less 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 likely diagnostic tools. Additionally, what costs will be associated with replacement batteries – both purchase and disposal?
2. Is electric the environmental “win” for transportation?
EVs are known for zero emissions benefits, but the important footnote is these are tailpipe emissions, not well-to-wheel (WTW) emissions. The difference may seem trivial, but results are significant. Tailpipe emissions only measure a fuel’s emissions as it is used in a vehicle. WTW emissions count those generated both during fuel production and use in a vehicle.
Other alternative fuels, such as renewable natural gas (RNG), offer greater emission savings than EVs, when WTW emissions are compared. Yes, EVs will make a stronger immediate impact on challenged air quality districts in California, 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 – electricity used to power EVs. Approximately half of the electricity generated for the United States still comes from coal-fired power plants, which constrains EVs 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 went 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 kinds of transmission upgrades will be necessary to get more power to 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 – 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 – committed to all types of sustainable energy solutions, we want to help you figure out the best short and long-term plan for your fleet.