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In April 2024, the EU introduced new regulations requiring manufacturers to cut emissions from large trucks by 45% by 2030, rising to 90% by 2040. To help reach this target, the number of electric trucks on the road is already growing: In 2023, there was a more than 200% increase in new electric truck registrations compared to 2022, to reach 5,279 registrations. However, while manufacturing electric trucks is one half of the issue, if we look at how we power these electric truck fleets, it’s clear that current truck charging infrastructure build out needs to speed up to reach is behind the 2040 target.

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Why is the electric truck transition happening?

Following the recent boom in electric passenger vehicles, demand for electric trucks is growing, driven by the sustainability, efficiency and performance benefits they offer. The primary advantage of electric trucks, and the reason their growth is so encouraging, is that they locally produce zero emissions. Their sustainability credentials are only making electric trucks more popular after the European Council voted to reduce emissions from truck traffic by 90% by 2040.

The cost-efficiency of electric trucks is also increasing as technology develops. While predictions about when exactly electric trucks will reach cost parity with their ICE counterparts vary (and differ between truck sizes) the consensus from global studies is that decreases in truck purchase prices due to battery cost reduction and lower truck operating costs will drive significant total cost of ownership (TCO) decreases before 2030. Moreover, since EU law makes a 45 minute truck break every 4.5 hours mandatory for drivers, a 1MW charger can fully charge a typical electric truck within 45 minutes, meaning fleet operators don’t have to sacrifice efficiencies, given the right charging infrastructure.

Additional benefits include less maintenance requirements than traditional ICE vehicles and lower noise and vibration levels, making electric trucks less tiring to drive and less intrusive on the local environment. All these benefits considered, demand for electric trucks is clearly high and set to grow, so it is important that the infrastructure is in place to support this accelerating transition.

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What does the grid need to support an electric truck transition?

A major sticking point in the electric truck transition is that trucks are reliant on the grid to deliver the power they need. Yet delivering this power from the grid to fleets of electric trucks requires widespread high power grid connections. Studies show that, to serve the expected number of trucks and passenger EVs on German roads by 2035, each highway service station will need to offer a minimum of 30 MW. Medium-voltage connections, which offer a maximum capacity of approximately 25 MW, are currently no longer sufficient for the e-mobility needs of the future. Instead, most charging sites will require a high-voltage connection to the grid. Each high voltage connection enables charging sites to unlock over 100MW of charging power - more than enough to supply growing fleets of electric trucks.

However, this is not an immediate fix, as grid updates are notably slow. As the managing director of EnBW’s network operator, NetzeBW, Martin Konermann points out, change needs to happen fast to build enough grid connections to support the projected increase in electric trucks on the road:

Taking into account eight years of planning and approval and two years construction time, a high-voltage power connection with the associated charging park takes approximately 10 years to implement. Now is the time to build the necessary charging infrastructure along highways.

Martin Konermann

While these upgrades take place, battery storage systems offer a lifeline to a grid undergoing increasing strain. When integrated into charging stations, onsite battery storage solutions act as a decentralized source of power or ‘buffer’, helping to manage increased loads on the grid by storing excess energy generated during periods of low demand and releasing it during peak times. This is also a cost-effective solution, as battery prices continue to fall - lithium-ion battery costs have dropped by more than 90% since 2010 and are set to fall further as demand grows.

How can the grid integrate more renewable energies?

While the e-mobility sector grows, demanding more and more from the grid in the process, Germany’s power grid is also on a mission to accommodate the energy transition. To reduce emissions, the German government has set a target for at least 80% of the country’s power to be sourced from renewables by 2050. To achieve this, and to make the electric truck sector truly sustainable, renewable energy must be constantly integrated into the grid to replace conventional non-renewable energy sources. Supporting this transition requires both the transmission grid (high-voltage, long-distance electricity transport) and the distribution grid (medium to low-voltage, local distribution) to adapt to the variability of renewable energy. As an example, EnBW has built a Converter in Phillipsburg: EnBW Converter Phillipsburg

In the transmission grid, the balance between electricity generation and consumption must be maintained by equalizing fluctuations through redispatch and balancing energy within each control area. Renewable energy’s variability also threatens system stability, requiring careful coordination among Germany’s four control areas and with neighboring countries via interconnectors. Additionally, integrating renewable energy into the grid requires substantial grid expansion measures, such as high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission, to facilitate the efficient transport of electricity within Germany and to support cross-border electricity exchange across Europe. Another example from EnBW: The TransnetBW Booster in Kupferzell

Meanwhile, the distribution grid must connect, supply, and control both consumers and decentralized feeders within a grid area while integrating decentralized renewable electricity generation plants. This integration will require grid reinforcement to accommodate new consumers, as sectors like e-mobility and electric heating technologies become more widespread. Finally, enhancing grid transparency by digitalizing consumption and generation systems through the use of smart meters and smart grids can facilitate more efficient grid management and accelerate renewable energy integration.

Battery storage solutions can also be placed throughout transmissions and distribution networks to support the integration of renewable energies into the grid. Battery storage supports renewable energy sources by storing excess energy produced by solar and wind energy. When these energy sources produce excess energy, instead of being wasted, it can be stored, then released at times of high demand or a grid failure. This is a highly effective solution to the problem of unreliable renewable energy threatening grid instability.

What’s next for the battery energy storage market?

Demand for battery storage, driven by the trends such as a growing electric vehicle and truck industry renewable energy transition and falling battery prices, means the battery storage market is growing at a fast rate. BloombergNEF predicts that the energy storage market will grow 15-fold between 2021 and 2030 to reach a global total of 411 gigawatts of storage compared to the 27GWh of storage that was available at the end of 2021.

Exciting technology developments hold the promise of further efficiencies being unlocked in battery storage. Sodium-ion batteries are being touted as the next big thing in energy storage. Currently valued at USD 12.41 billion, the sodium-ion battery market is anticipated to grow by 11.7% from 2024 to 2030. Although at a much earlier stage of development than lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries use far more abundant materials to create, giving them the potential to be cheaper in the long-term, are safer and are more resistant to extreme temperatures. Sodium-ion batteries can act as a price hedge against too high lithium prices and therefore derisk the further growth of the battery market.

However, while some areas are thriving, much of the battery ecosystem needs additional funding. Battery management software is key to making batteries more predictable, efficient and safe, and should not be overlooked. Solutions to increase battery sustainability are also key. While electric trucks produce no tailpipe emissions and can be run on renewable energy through the grid, recycling the batteries that power these trucks is important and will grow strongly in the coming years.

Clearly, the opportunities available in the battery industry are many. With legislation increasing pressure to accelerate the energy transition and new technologies unlocking greater benefits in batteries, now is a good time to invest.

What are we looking for at ENV?

EnBW does the hardware infrastructure investments, and ENV is focussing on digital solutions enabling these roll-outs.

Currently, we see that in the e-truck charging sector the depot fleet charging is growing. In our opinion two cases are relevant here in particular:

  • Optimising depot fleet charging connected to energy management systems of the depot itself
  • Optimising depot fleet charging regarding fleet management and charging costs, including route optimisation

So, do you have a charging or battery management software solution, a battery storage solution, or another e-mobility software solution that needs funding? We’d love to hear from you.