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Electric trucks and buses?

A new study quantifies what commercial EV-makers have been saying for years: electric trucks and buses are a triple win. They save money for fleet operators, and reduce both local air pollution and carbon emissions. Furthermore, in California (among other places), they generate jobs and economic benefits. American bus-builder Proterra is headquartered in Silicon Valley and has a manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, and BYD assembles e-buses in Lancaster.

The study, which was commissioned by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the California Electric Transportation Coalition, and conducted by the international research firm ICF, looked at the value proposition for fleet operators of battery-electric trucks and buses (and apparently invented a new acronym: BETs). Today, BETs have an upfront price premium compared to legacy diesel trucks. However, the costs of battery packs and other components are rapidly falling, and the study found that, by 2030 or earlier, electric vehicles will offer a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for nearly all truck and bus classes, even without incentives.

Federal and state subsidies, as well as various settlement funds, are available to offset the upfront costs for fleets. In July, the US DOT announced $85 million in grants under the Low- or No-Emission (Low-No) grant program, to fund the deployment of alternative-fueled transit buses and infrastructure in 38 states. In Virginia, a recent order for 17 e-buses was partially financed by the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. In 2017, Charged’s hometown of St Petersburg ordered a BYD inductive charging system to serve its electric buses, using funds paid out by BP as restitution for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In California, fleets can take advantage of clean vehicle incentives through the state’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP); and clean fuel credits through the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). ICF found that, with these incentives, electrification makes sense from a TCO perspective across nearly all truck and bus segments.

The ICF study also found that, of all the available alternative fuel options, battery-electric trucks deliver the greatest total reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen oxides and cancer-causing ultra-fine particulate matter. While renewable diesel and renewable natural gas can achieve emission reductions, only the deployment of zero-emission trucks and buses, together with full implementation of existing NOx-reduction policies, can come close to meeting the state’s air quality goals.

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