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Power play: Electricity trumps diesel as the affordable choice for HGVs

25 May 2023

A groundbreaking study from Chalmers University of Technology reveals that, contrary to popular belief, electricity is a cost-effective alternative to diesel for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

(Image: Chalmers/Pixabay)
(Image: Chalmers/Pixabay)

The transition from a fossil-fuelled to an electric vehicle fleet has so far been most visible in lighter vehicles, such as private cars and delivery vans. In the case of HGVs, travelling long distances, the transition has been slow because the prevailing view is that such vehicles would need large batteries, which take up so much load capacity that electric operation is not profitable. 

But now researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have found that electricity can indeed be a cheaper alternative to diesel – even for heavy goods vehicles.

“I myself am surprised by the results and hope that more haulage companies and heavy goods vehicle manufacturers will be willing to invest in electrification now that we have shown that it can be cost-effective,” says Johannes Karlsson, Doctoral student in Automatic Control Engineering at Chalmers.

"We have looked at a scenario where heavy goods vehicles drive the 553km kilometres between Helsingborg and Stockholm in Sweden. 

“We have compared two different battery sizes and two possible prices for fast charging. Our conclusion is that it seems possible to electrify this type of vehicle in a cost-effective way," Karlsson adds.

Study based on real-world data
To provide accurate insights, the researchers created a model based on real-world data from a haulage company in Helsingborg, Sweden. The company was chosen because it carried out typical tasks and operating conditions for a haulage company covering long distances. 

The large battery did not need to be recharged on the road, only at the company’s own depots, but it did take up more load capacity. The smaller battery needed quick charging on the road but did not restrict the load capacity as much. The results showed that running on electricity was profitable for the haulage company in the study.

"With the right battery size, it should be possible in many cases to electrify heavy goods vehicles so that the cost is the same or lower than if they were powered by a diesel engine,” says Karlsson.

“The best size of battery is determined by whether light loads are being transported, such as parcels or vegetables, or heavy loads, such as drinks or timber. 

“Other important factors that influence the choice of battery size are driving patterns and the price of fast charging. A realistic future scenario is that HGVs will have different battery sizes.”

Investing in batteries and charging equipment comes at a cost. To make the investment worthwhile, researchers have shown in a previous study that the battery of an electric HGV needs to be charged and discharged at least 1,400 times, which is something that most commercial vehicles exceed in their lifetime.

Hoping to accelerate transition
Studies of the kind conducted by Johannes Karlsson and his colleague Anders Grauers are unusual. In the past, the electrification of heavy goods vehicles has mainly looked at scenarios where the HGVs move and are charged within a confined area, such as a harbour.

The Chalmers researchers now hope that their results will accelerate the transition from diesel to electricity in heavy goods vehicle transport.

"We have shown that a heavy goods vehicle fleet can be electrified in a cost-effective way. This should lead to companies having the incentive to invest in the transition. Financial incentives usually mean that changes can be made quickly, and our study is realistic for many transport operations," says Anders Grauers, Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers.

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