It’s governments’ turn to prepare for the green trucking revolution

June 4, 2024

The new truck CO2 law provides investment certainty for Europe's trucking industry to go zero emissions. EU member states now need to get the charging and grid infrastructure ready for what's coming.


77% of new heavy-duty vehicle sales will need to be zero-emission in 2040

173 TWh of green electrons will be required to power Europe's electrified heavy-duty fleet by 2040

Imagine if the US Congress and President Truman had passed the Marshall Plan in 1948 but failed to appropriate the necessary billions in subsequent yearly budgets to make the plan a reality and enable us Europeans to rebuild our continent. History teaches us that the adoption of good policy is just the beginning and must be followed by good implementation.

The EU has just passed a groundbreaking law that will require nearly all new trucks, buses and coaches sold by 2040 to be zero-emission. Now comes the hard part.

But first, what’s at stake? The new CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles, agreed by EU governments and MEPs, are a big deal. Manufacturers will need to slash the average emissions of new trucks and coaches by 43% in 2030, 64% in 2035 and 90% in 2040. Starting in 2035, these targets will also cover vocational vehicles such as garbage and construction trucks, eventually bringing about 87% of total heavy-duty sales under the regulation. By 2030, 90% of new urban buses will need to be zero-emission, hitting 100% by 2035. Trailer manufacturers will also need to improve the emissions performance of truck trailers by up to 10% by 2030.

The new targets are projected to reduce annual CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles by almost two-thirds by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. If vehicle makers just meet the minimum requirements under the law, new sales of zero-emission HDVs should rise to around 31% by the end of the decade, 52% by 2035 and 77% until 2040. For the overall fleet, we project that about 5% of trucks and buses on Europe's roads will be zero-emission by 2030, increasing to 16% in 2035 and 30% by 2040. And even if it doesn't seem like enough to save our climate yet, it's still a huge step that will trigger a massive shift for one of Europe's biggest polluting industries.

We should not take this political achievement for granted. Fortunately, lawmakers saw through the fossil fuel lobby's sneaky attempt to derail the transition to zero-emission trucks. Instead of spreading doubt and confusion by allowing fake solutions like e-fuels and even the most unsustainable biofuels to count against the CO2 targets, they recognised the importance of providing the long-term planning certainty that both truckmakers and transport companies had been desperately asking for.

But planning certainty isn't an end in itself. Instead, it's a means to kickstart the development of a new industrial value chain and infrastructure. There's no doubt that electric trucks will increasingly be cheaper to run, drive as far and carry as much as their diesel counterparts. And, contrary to some stubborn misconceptions, supplying the renewable electricity needed for charging trucks and buses is achievable. By 2040, Europe's electrified heavy-duty fleet will require some 173 TWh of green electrons, equivalent to adding another quarter to the wind turbines and solar panels that are already installed today. But we will also need a lot more pylons, cables and plugs. So, for e-trucks to become the new normal on our roads, we need to get our charging and grid infrastructure ready for what's coming.

For starters, Europe's highway charging law, or AFIR, sets some ambitious targets for building a solid public truck charging network across the continent. But the law’s 'one size fits all' approach might not cut it for the diverse truck and coach activities across all regions and road sections. If implemented too rigidly, it could mean some places end up with too many truck chargers that barely get used, while others might not have enough charging spots to meet demand.

To fix this, we suggest a more 'tailored' approach at national level that realigns the AFIR targets to actual needs, and adapts them to the projected local traffic volume of electric trucks. Member states should also step up their game on proactive grid planning, ensuring grid operators expand capacity ahead of future demand, not just react to it. Additionally, permit and grid connection procedures for charging operators need to be simplified and standardised.

Let's also talk about money. We need a reliable and seamless European-wide charging network as quickly as possible. Public funds can help support the roll-out of truck chargers in a timely manner, but should not be disruptive to the market. For example, the now mandatory Renewable Energy Directive’s crediting mechanism should be fast-tracked by member states to improve the viability of early-stage charging infrastructure operations. And smart tendering can bundle high and low traffic spots to avoid subsidy dependency and prevent monopolies.

Contrary to what some die-hards might cling to, there's no turning back now. The trucking sector will inevitably change, and if we do it right, it will do so for the betterment of the climate and business. The future of trucking is electric, and by embracing change and planning wisely, we can pave the way for electric rigs to be charged - and to take charge of fulfilling the trucking sector's needs.

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