Trucks and Buses: The Next Frontier in Electric Vehicles

October 26, 2016
Jimmy O'Dea
Senior Vehicles Analyst

Today, I am happy to announce the release of a new report that UCS co-authored with The Greenlining Institute on heavy-duty electric trucks and buses in California.

Why Heavy-Duty Vehicles?

Heavy-duty vehicles play a large role in transportation and transportation as a whole is the largest source of global warming emissions in California and is fast becoming the largest in the United States. Heavy-duty vehicles also greatly contribute to poor air quality, with low income communities and communities of color most likely to be burdened with this pollution and the increased health risks it brings.

While progress has been made on getting electric trucks and buses out there, there’s even more needed to realize the benefits of clean air, reduced oil consumption, and high performance that electric vehicles can bring to the heavy-duty sector.

An electric truck and bus made by BYD. Photo Credit: BYD

An electric truck and bus made by BYD. Photo Credit: BYD

The Report Answered Three Main Questions

1. How do the life cycle emissions of heavy-duty electric vehicles compare to traditional diesel and natural gas vehicles?

Short answer: way lower. One of the hallmarks of electric vehicles is that they do not have any tailpipe emissions, which provides great relief to the local air quality in the communities they are driven in. But what about the life cycle global warming emissions?

We used transit buses as a representative example of heavy-duty vehicles and found that battery powered electric buses on today’s grid in California have nearly 75 percent lower global warming emissions than diesel and natural gas buses. Fuel cell electric buses fueled with one-third hydrogen generated with renewable energy (per California law) have 50 percent lower global warming emissions than diesel and natural gas buses.

So like passenger cars, electric heavy-duty vehicles offer significant life cycle benefits over traditional vehicles on today’s grid.

2. What is the state of technology for heavy-duty electric vehicles?

Short answer: way further along than you might think. A battery electric transit bus was recently announced with a range of 350 miles and overhead and underground on-route chargers can extend the range of electric vehicles beyond what they get on a single charge. Fuel cell electric buses have long had ranges over 200 miles.

There are more than 15 transit agencies deploying electric buses, with two in California committed to being fully electric. While electric trucks are not yet suitable for long-haul shipping, there are a large number of trucks and buses that operate only in cities and are great candidates for electrification today.

3. How can we ensure that all Californians benefit from the growth of the heavy-duty electric vehicle industry?

Short answer: job training and equitable hiring practices. Already, there are nearly 15 manufacturers in California making electric trucks and buses, making the state an early leader in this industry. As this industry grows, how can it be one that provides economic opportunity for all Californians?

My colleagues at Greenlining interviewed several manufacturers and scoured Department of Labor databases to paint a picture of the types of job opportunities that exist in the heavy-duty electric vehicle industry and what skills and trainings are needed for workers to enter these quality jobs.

In short, electrical skills will become increasingly important for jobs related to assembly, manufacturing, and electrical infrastructure, which represent the most prevalent job opportunities in this industry. And as a young industry, with many small (yet growing) companies, now is the time for companies to develop and implement equitable recruiting and hiring practices.

Electric truck and bus technologies are advancing and smart policies to accelerate their deployment will benefit air quality, health, and the climate, as well as provide good job opportunities for underserved communities.

This report has been a fantastic opportunity to work with Greenlining, one of the most respected racial and economic equity organizations, and highlights the many dimensions to making the world one that is healthy and just. Check out the full report here: Delivering Opportunity: How Electric Buses and Trucks Can Create Jobs and Improve Public Health in California.

P.S. Today also marks my first blog at UCS. Before joining the Clean Vehicles team about this time last year, I worked for US Senator Brian Schatz (Hawaii) on energy and climate issues as a Congressional Fellow. Before that, you could find me in the research lab studying fuel cells at Cornell and UC Santa Barbara.