The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
A cohesive industry and regulatory effort is needed to accelerate zero-emission vehicle uptake
Heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) haul goods and foodstuffs across the continent, playing a vital role in keeping supply chains running. However, when we think of truck traffic, we also think of endless convoys of carbon-polluting trucks on our highways.
Indeed, in the EU, HDVs are responsible for almost a third of CO2 emissions from road transport. At the same time—contrary to what highway service stations and laybys forever clogged by parking HDVs suggest—they only make up 2% of all vehicles on Europe’s roads.
If we are to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and reach climate neutrality by 2050, the decarbonisation of heavy-duty truck traffic is crucial.
And this vision could (and should) become a reality in the very near future. Zero-emission (ZE) vehicles include battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks and emit exactly what their name suggests: nothing. No particulate matter, no nitrogen oxide, no carbon dioxide.
European truck manufacturers have targeted the mass market roll-out of long-haul ZE trucks for 2024. Daimler, MAN, Scania, and Volvo have all announced models that are able to cover a 500-kilometre range or run for 4.5 hours between charging breaks.
As a result, the requirements for charging infrastructure OEMs are clear: In 2024, we need to roll out a network of high-power chargers to provide charging capacities for these battery electric trucks on the go. The development of a new megawatt-charging system to cover these charging needs is in full swing.
Currently, there are three main challenges to overcome in the quick and widespread installation of megawatt-charging points.
Firstly, there is a lack of sufficient grid connection on-site. Multi-megawatt charging stations will create a significant electricity demand in rural areas with limited grid connections. The establishment of new grid connections is hampered by lengthy approval procedures and long lead times for equipment (especially transformers).
Furthermore, grid expansion activities must be coordinated and pooled per site between car and truck charging infrastructure providers.
Secondly, there needs to be a guarantee of high availability. Facilities for truck parking are very limited. At peak times, demand for parking facilities at highway service stations far exceeds capacities, hence the real risk that diesel trucks will block designated truck charging stations.
Unavailable, incompatible, or out-of-service charging stations result in spiralling opportunity costs for the freight industry. With time pressure engrained into their business, logistic companies urgently require planning security in the form of new parking spots designated exclusively for charging, smart reservation systems and real-time occupancy detection systems.
In the future, truck telematic systems and logistics dispatch systems could be directly connected to charging stations for flexible route planning and reservation management.
Finally, downward charging technology compatibility is essential. The currently installed Combined Charging System (CCS) fast-charging plug standard can only transmit a maximum power of 500 kilowatts, which results in long charging times for electric trucks—which is feasible for overnight depot charging, but not for on-the-go charging.
Accordingly, the new Megawatt Charging Standard (MCS) is being implemented to provide the necessary charging power. However, it is not downward compatible, which means long-haul electric trucks will require both CCS as well as MCS inlets in order to charge with MCS along the route and use CCS for overnight charging.
Also, highway and en-route charging infrastructure needs to feature both CCS and MCS connectors to allow delivery of electric trucks that have only CCS inlets to charge as well.
Awareness of these challenges is helpful in devising strategies to overcome them—and can pave the way for the rapid decarbonisation of the road freight sector. With manufacturers of ZE trucks as well as charging infrastructure providers at the ready, regulatory bodies must now define more ambitious emissions goals to set the pace.
The ramp-up needs to happen in unison for a viable business case to develop: Any scenario where ZE trucks are on the road that cannot charge in the required time and location, or where high-power charging points sit idle, will seriously limit the decarbonisation drive we need in this decade.
Shortening the approval procedures for grid connections is urgently necessary to provide the required infrastructure for MCS charging points. The EU’s Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) proposes mandatory targets for a high-power charging station network across Europe until 2025.
However, these are only minimum targets, given that truck manufacturers forecast a sale share of up to 10% for ZE trucks. Although the current 2025 emission targets for heavy-duty trucks could be met with a mere 5% of ZE vehicles, there is a clear need for doing more. In order to transform this interest into action, however, there needs to be the right purchase incentives and financing instruments for SME road freight companies that make up a large share of the market.
Currently, EU emissions reductions lag behind what market-ready technology could achieve. All eyes are now on a review of EU emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles in the final quarter of 2022.
The campaign group Transport & Environment rightly argues in favour of a 100% emissions reduction target for 2035—which is more than feasible from a technological point of view and much-needed if we want to stand a chance of honouring the Paris Agreement’s 2050 goal. •
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