Charging ahead: Electric trucks are here to stay

A dearth of charging infrastructure has often been cited as a major obstacle in convincing truck manufacturers to ramp up the production of zero-emission, electrically powered heavy-duty vehicles (eHDV).

Other factors impeding their development include their limited operational range, payload restrictions, and higher running costs compared to diesel-powered models. It is difficult to get a clear picture of how many electric trucks are currently on the roads but what is not in doubt is that their number is extremely modest when compared to the market as a whole.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated in its latest Global EV Outlook that in 2022, 60,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold worldwide, representing only 1.2% of total truck sales.

According to estimates published by business consulting and service firm, Markets and Markets, the global electric truck market totaled 101,499 units in 2022 and is projected to grow to 1,067,985 units by 2030.

In the US, analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund revealed that almost 13,000 medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks have been put into service across the nation in the past four years – more than 10,000 in 2023 alone. However, this compares to an estimated global fleet in the U.S. of 12.2 million.

The slow uptake in expanding the electric truck fleet in Europe is demonstrated by the latest available data from the Belgium-based European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) on EU truck sales by power source.

In 2022, almost 97% of all newly registered HDVs in the European Union ran on diesel, 2.8% were powered by alternative fuels like natural gas, LPG or ethanol, while only 0.6% of the trucks sold were electrically chargeable vehicles.

Chicken & Egg Dilemma

The figures bring home the scale of the task in hand in moving towards greener trucking while the seemingly tardy take-up of eHDV can perhaps be partly explained by a 'chicken-and-egg' dilemma. This sees haulers reluctant to purchase them because there aren’t enough charging stations while companies won’t build charging stations because there aren’t enough EVs on the roads.

But electric trucks are here to stay, driven by an increased focus by governments on clean energy and the decarbonization of transport – one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases. Industrial-scale charging infrastructure is gathering momentum, laying the foundation for zero-emission freight.

A study published in May 2023 by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) assessed where, when, and how much charging infrastructure will be required by 2030 to support the fast-moving transition to zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the U.S.

It underlined that such infrastructure (an estimated 600,000 chargers) does not all need to be built at once as growth in energy demand is set to be concentrated in freight zones, such as ports, industrial zones, and freight corridors.

By the end of the current decade, 10 states, led by Texas and California, will satisfy 49% of national charging needs. Counties in Southern California, the Texas Triangle, and around Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Chicago will experience the greatest energy demands from electric trucks, ICCT said.

“With charging infrastructure in the right places at the right time, zero-emission trucks will deliver cleaner air and save money in the long run,” observed Ray Minjares, Director of the ICCT’s Heavy-Duty Vehicles Program. “Now is the time for electric utilities to step up and deliver the power freight trucks need.”

At the start of this year, the North American units of Daimler Trucks (DTNA), Volvo Group and Navistar, along with ABB E-mobility, Voltera, and Prologis formed a coalition: Powering America’s Commercial Transportation (PACT) to accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure for medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks in the US.

DTNA president and CEO John O’Leary said: “Through PACT, we aim to accelerate this infrastructure buildout so that fleets can adopt ZEVs (zero emission vehicles) exclusively for HDVs every 60-100 kilometers of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) in each direction of travel by 2030.”

Some member states, such as Germany – a major country of truck transit – have already announced that they will be putting provisions in place that go beyond AFIR.

According to Brussels-based clean transport campaign group, Transport & Environment, the EU will have more than enough infrastructure for electric trucks in 2030.

Its analysis, based on AFIR and the infrastructure plans in Germany, projects that an annual charging energy of 13.79 TWh will be available by that date. This is under conservative assumptions such as the utilization of high-power chargers of only four hours per day.

Beyond Germany, this analysis does not consider the plans of other member states – such as the Netherlands and Austria – whose charging provision also goes beyond their respective obligations under the AFIR.

In addition, several private Charging Point Operators (CPOs) are ready to deploy truck charging infrastructure on a large scale in the next few years.

“It is therefore very likely that this analysis is on the conservative side of what charging infrastructure will be available in 2030, T&E added.

Early 2023, oil giant BP’s charging solutions provider, BP Pulse, announced the first charging corridor for medium and heavy-duty electric trucks in Europe — the beginning of a roll-out of its dedicated charging network for freight operators and fleets.

Six public charging locations with ultra-fast 300kw charge points aimed at electric trucks were launched along a 600-kilometer (370-mile) stretch of the Rhine-Alpine corridor across Germany. Each charging station is capable of charging more than 20 electric trucks per charger each day.

“Ultra-fast charging in the right locations, combined with depot and destination charging, is critical infrastructure to accelerate the electrification transition, unlocking the economic and environmental benefits of low-carbon commercial road freight and transport,” commented Nigel Head, BP Pulse’s EV truck director for Europe on the opening of the charging corridor.

Last month, BP Pulse acquired the freehold of Ashford International Truckstop, in Kent, England, one of the largest facilities of its kind in Europe and located in proximity to Dover, the UK’s leading ferry port, and the Channel Tunnel, key crossing points for trucks heading for the mainland of the continent.

The first mega-watt chargers, which have the potential to fully charge an eHDV in up to 45 minutes, enabling an onward of 310 miles (500 kilometers), are expected to be in place from 2026.

BP’s ambition is to have more than 100,000 chargers installed worldwide by 2030 focused on ultra-fast charging.

Meanwhile, Netherlands-based CPO, Milence, a joint venture between Daimler Trucks, sustainable transportation specialist, Traton Group, and the Volvo Group, is planning to build and operate 1,700 high-performance public charging points in Europe by 2027.

In November 2023, Milence signed an agreement with the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, in Belgium, to build a 30-bay charging hub for HDVs which is scheduled to open in May 2024.

In December last year, it opened its first-ever hub in Venlo, in the Netherlands, a major location for logistics warehousing and distribution in Europe.

This month, Milence is scheduled to open its first charging hub in France, near the Normandy city of Rouen – a strategic, geographical location between Paris and Le Havre, the country’s leading container port.

Stuart Todd
Stuart Todd


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