Why Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicle technologies offer significant efficiency and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to diesel. Switching to electrification from diesel would reduce GHG emissions around 37 percent in regions of the United States where renewables generate a larger share of electricity. A fully renewable electricity portfolio would result in near-zero GHG and other emissions from commercial transport.
However, significant technological and commercial barriers to widespread adoption in trucking, such as battery size and weight, must be overcome for many solutions to scale. Given these limitations, hybrid electric and electrification of non-engine components may be the most practical applications for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Electric vehicles comprise only 1 percent of U.S. vehicle sales, and most of this is in the light-duty market. A supportive policy environment is needed to increase sales, which, by one estimate, are projected to be less than 1 percent in 2035, even when combined with hydrogen vehicle sales.1 2 The strongest potential for growth exists in class 2b and 3 vans and trucks, electrification of vehicle subsystems, and specialized applications.3
Average U.S. retail prices for electricity for recharging on an energy-cost basis were 63.8 percent lower than diesel in the five years since 2010.4 The price difference compared to diesel grew by 14.8 percent for electricity compared to averages for the previous 10 years.5 These figures reflect electricity’s high efficiency on a work-power basis.
There are multiple electric vehicle options, but most are not commercially viable for most MDV and HDV applications. Continued growth will depend heavily on reducing upfront costs and improving vehicle range. 6
All-electric vehicles, known as battery-electric vehicles (BEV), use an electric motor powered by large batteries.7 BEVs are useful for trucks that travel shorter distances and have well-defined routes that can allow for timely, planned charging without interrupting business operations.8 Current battery technologies for trucks support a range of up to 100 miles per charge, with larger electric trucks supporting a much shorter range.9 Additional tradeoffs include battery weight, power while operating on inclines, availability of charging infrastructure, cost, and charging downtime.10
Hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) use batteries and electric motors as well as an internal combustion engine (ICE) to operate. HEVs have the potential to provide a 20-35 percent improvement in fuel economy over conventional trucks. They address many of the tradeoffs of all-electric vehicles, but range is limited and vehicle costs remain high.11
Plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV) function as HEVs relying on electronic components as well as an ICE to power the vehicle and using “regenerative braking” that captures some energy during breaking to extend vehicle range. PHEVs can have an all-electric range of roughly 40 miles and have larger battery packs than regular HEVs.12
Electrification of Non-Engine Components
Idling technologies require roughly 1,400 gallons of diesel per vehicle, per year. Electrification can power vehicle subsystems such as heating, air conditioning, refrigeration units, and electricity for personal devices such as televisions and refrigerators.13 14