What is Electrification of Transportation?
For the transportation sector, electrification means replacing fossil fuels with electricity as the means of powering light-duty vehicles, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and buses. The primary goal is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, ultimately, contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change on the planet.
What is the potential for reducing emissions?
Globally, the transportation sector contributes about 25% of all CO2 emissions. In the US, the contribution is 28%, with light-duty vehicles – cars, SUVs, and small trucks – responsible for 59% of transportation emissions and 17% of all US emissions. The sector also includes aircraft and ships, which have limited potential for electrification, and rail, which comprises only 2% of transportation emissions. Municipal and school buses are good candidates for electrification.
So, road vehicles, in particular light-duty vehicles, are where the most opportunity lies for GHG reduction in the sector. Sounds simple, but it’s more complicated than just replacing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs).
Does clean electricity make a difference?
The total emission reduction from electrification also depends on the source of the electricity that is powering EVs, and that depends on location. In Norway, which is the world leader in renewable energy use, 45% of electricity comes from hydropower, while Brazil in second place gets 32% of its total energy supply from biofuel and waste energy.
In the US, 36% of electricity is generated using renewables, including wind, solar, and hydropower, as well as non-CO2-emitting nuclear power. Because of the size of the US, the country is second only to China in gigawatts generated by renewable energy sources. An additional 35% is from natural gas, which emits the least CO2 of any fossil fuel.
That means today, EVs will result in lower CO2 emissions overall than ICE vehicles
But again, location matters. EVs will be greener in Washington state, where almost half of electricity comes from hydropower, than in Wyoming, where electric generation is primarily fueled by coal.
What other advantages does electrification of transportation have?
Improving air quality is a significant additional benefit that comes from electrification. Electric cars, trucks, and buses produce no tailpipe emissions, and thus help reduce local air pollution. Moreover, buses typically run on diesel fuel or compressed natural gas, which emit nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that reduce air quality and that are eliminated by electrification.
Beyond environmental benefits, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology will help stabilize the grid and meet increased demand for electricity to power from EVs. V2G and smart power management enable EVs to charge at times when demand for electricity is low, like late night and early morning, and transfer electricity back to the grid when demand is high.
New technologies for charging medium- and heavy-duty EV trucks
Look for new technologies emerging in 2022 to help pave the way for electrification of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, which require more power than light-duty EVs. As advances like medium-voltage utility services, centralized DC (direct current) distribution, liquid-cooled cables and wireless charging come onto the market, fleet operators will be able to increase maximum charging speeds and scale EV charging. These advances, along with bigger and better battery technologies, will help longer-distance and longer-time use cases for EV trucks and buses.
Fleet electrification requires planning and energy management
Although major fleet operators like FedEx, Amazon, and UPS have committed to fleet electrification, they represent a fraction of the 11 million fleet vehicles operating in the US. That means hundreds of thousands of small fleet operators and thousands of utilities will begin the transition to fleet electrification over the coming years.
That will require coordination between fleet operators and local utilities to upgrade capacity at fleet sites to accommodate charging even five electric trucks. Smart energy management can also help fleets have vehicles ready for use when needed while protecting the grid by consuming power during off-peak times. Energy management can also control the flow of power to and across chargers in the fleet depot to balance energy use during charging.
Although transportation electrification is accelerating with the introduction of new, lower-cost EV options for consumers, the transition to transportation electrification will not happen overnight. This gives ample time for utilities to prepare for the additional load on the grid from EV charging and for the technological advances that will make EV charging faster and more efficient for EVs of all sizes.