Research: cost-effective electrification of long-distance line-haul trucks

A new research paper investigates the economic consequences of a haulage company replacing its line-haul diesel trucks with battery-electric trucks. It also examines how large truck batteries should be, whether the haulage companies should use public fast chargers to complement their own and whether public fast chargers have the potential to be profitable.

The potential extra cost of losing payload capacity is estimated, and there is an investigation of whether a charge-point operator should meet the peak demand for charging. The case under analysis is designed to represent a typical line-haul service between terminals in a major logistics system, with the finding that, in this case, a transition to battery-electric trucks seems cost-effective for the company.

Moreover, the company should use public fast chargers, which will likely become profitable, given that the utilization factor of the investigated public fast chargers may realistically exceed 20%.

The case study shows that long-haul battery-electric trucks can compete with diesel trucks, even if the price of diesel fuel is only 1.2 EUR/liter (excluding VAT), and even more so if the price of diesel fuel stays at the current high level of 1.8 EUR/liter.

However, what makes the problem complex is the difficulty of determining the battery capacity and charging strategy if there is significant price uncertainty in public fast charging. At the same time, it is hard to set public fast-charging prices without knowing how much the chargers will be used. Additionally, the investment made by one party can be risky if the other party changes its strategy. For example, if a haulier starts buying larger batteries, the need for public fast charging may greatly diminish, which is terrible for the charge-point operator. Similarly, if the haulier has chosen small batteries, a price rise in public fast charging will be problematic.

However, what benefits the transition from diesel trucks to battery-electric trucks is that these problems will likely decrease over time. This is because charging, in the long run, will be a very competitive business with few entry barriers. However, during a rapid transition, the competition may be weaker since additional entry barriers exist, such as high investment risks during a turbulent industry transition, a temporary lack of available grid capacity, and long installation waiting times. However, the more common battery electric trucks and vehicles become, the easier it will be to achieve high charger utilization factors and thus lower public fast-charging prices. Furthermore, the price picture will probably change to favor battery-electric trucks due to increased production volumes and technological advancements.

The study compares the costs of the main alternatives for the studied haulage company. In the figure, all the values are in EUR/kWh, and the bar height represents the total cost of a given strategy. The indirect cost of a reduced payload is not included, as this depends on the type of goods being transported. This can vary from zero to the values estimated in this paper.

The haulier will likely select the strategy represented by the fourth bar. Provided a low price for fast charging can be secured, this will make the cost of propulsion energy lower than the cost of current diesel trucks. Additionally, there will be less of a reduction in the payload capacity compared to the large battery strategy.

Source: Karlsson J, Grauers A. Case Study of Cost-Effective Electrification of Long-Distance Line-Haul Trucks. Energies. 2023; 16(6):2793.

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Walther Ploos van Amstel  

Passie in logistiek & supply chain management