What’s coming next for transport electrification?

DB Schenker Norway’s specially designed e-cargo bikes are capable of carrying a 300 kg payload and are 40% more productive than trucks in city centres
The Yara Birkeland is a fully autonomous and electric cargo solution

I am noticing electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads more and more as their numbers continue to double each year in New Zealand. But we have a long way to go before we catch up with Norway. In 2018, EVs accounted for half of all new light vehicles entering the Norwegian national fleet.

Scandinavia is also making strides with electrification of other aspects of transport, including heavy vehicles, shipping and aviation. I went to the 2019 Nordic EV Summit in Oslo, Norway, to find out what might be coming to New Zealand in the future.

The summit was opened by HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, which shows how seriously electric transport is taken there. The news from Christina Bu, secretary general of the Norwegian EV Association, was that in the month of February this year, 70% of all passenger cars sold in Oslo were EVs. When you get to 70% market penetration, EVs are definitely mainstream and it’s clear that consumers want this technology. You certainly see EVs everywhere on the streets of Oslo. You hear them too, but what you hear is the noise of snow tyres on cobbles.

Electric coastal shipping

The first taste of what is coming next for transport electrification came from keynote presenter Bjørn Tore Orvik, CEO of Yara Birkeland. He is working on the first project to electrify the supply chain of multinational fertiliser production company Yara International.

They are not simply dipping their toes in the water, even though the project involves coastal shipping. The project will shift 20,000 containers a year of agri-chemicals from diesel-fuelled road freight to a fully autonomous supply chain which is zero emissions. It centres on a 100% electric coastal container ship, with port operations including battery-electric straddle carriers and cranes.

The 120 TEU capacity ship is under construction and due to launch next year. It will have the world’s largest battery, at 7 MWh, of electricity storage capacity – equivalent to the batteries in 250 Nissan Leafs.

Initially the vessel will operate with a crew, but the plans are that it will operate autonomously from 2022. Everything will be enabled by 5G mobile technology. The project is supported by Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment.

Electric trucks

A breakout session on electric freight continued the theme of supply chain electrification. Disappointingly, the session was very light on the advances that are being made in electric trucks, particularly where vehicles in the 10–25 tonne range are starting to become available from Volvo, MAN and Daimler.

US-based CALSTART is aiming to drive progress in the availability of zero-emission commercial vehicles through its Drive-to- Zero programme. It is working with freight providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to scale-up market demand for e-trucks on one side, and encourage OEMs to respond with new product on the other. E-buses are really starting to make their mark on cities around the world, and CALSTART wants to take the technology from e-bus successes and help transfer it to e-trucks.

Volvo briefly mentioned that they are working on having their e-trucks ultra-fast charge capable. They are now deploying their first 175 kW ultra-fast chargers for their e-trucks. By comparison, the fast chargers for cars in New Zealand are 50 kW, giving a charging time for typical EVs of 15–30 minutes. At more than three times this power, Volvo’s 175 kW chargers can significantly speed up the charging process when e-trucks are out and about.

Volvo’s new chargers are still considerably less powerful than the 450 kW fast charger deployed by Tranzit here in Wellington to ultra-fast charge the city’s new 100% electric double decker buses.

Over 70% of freight movements in New Zealand are within regions, and within the range of today’s e-trucks. In addition, e-trucks are exempt from road user charges until 2% of all heavy vehicles in New Zealand are electric. Electricity needed to drive 100 km is a small fraction of the price of the diesel needed to drive the same distance. New Zealand is well placed for medium-sized e-trucks and it would have been good to hear more about what e-truck options might be coming soon globally.

‘Last mile’ supply chain electrification

With electric Lime scooters now having been used for over one million ‘last mile’ passenger journeys in New Zealand, the idea of electric cargo bikes in the freight supply chain doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

International supply chain company DB Schenker has stepped outside the box with a project in two Norwegian cities – Oslo and Bergen – which aims to shift 80% of city centre freight to electric.

For the project, DB Schenker built cross-docking terminals which see goods arriving in semi-trailers and being sent out for lastmile distribution in a combination of e-vans and e-cargo bikes. The specially designed e-cargo bikes are capable of carrying a 300 kg payload and have 2 cu m of cargo space. Their range on a single charge is 80 km or eight hours of operation.

Lars Sveen, head of domestic land transport for DB Schenker Norway, says that the e-cargo bikes are 40% more productive than using trucks in the central city. His next steps are to electrify the truck semitrailers and expand to more cities.

eHighways

Siemens presented the work that they have been doing on electrifying roads for long-haul trucks for continuous dynamic charging. Pilot eHighways in Sweden and California have been created using a ‘two-pole catenary’ system where overhead wires on the nearside lane charge electric trucks travelling at high speed – in a similar way to some electric trains and trolley buses. An e-truck’s fully charged onboard batteries can then be used complete its route when it comes off the eHighway.

Germany has estimated it will need 2500 km of eHighways by 2030 to reach its climate change targets. It’s difficult to see how this technology could be implemented cost-effectively in New Zealand when the country continues to struggle to electrify rail. In my view, using sustainably produced biodiesel would be a lower-cost way to reduce carbon emissions from long-haul road freight and far quicker to implement.

Electric construction equipment

The lack of information on the latest for electric trucks was made up for with news on the electrification of construction vehicles such as excavators.

The City of Oslo now requires in its tender processes that all its construction sites be zero emission as a prerequisite of bidding.

This radical policy has led to Norwegian company PON Equipment deploying a 20 tonne 100% electric Caterpillar excavator in a pilot operation. It’s operating with the same performance as its diesel equivalent. An 8 tonne Caterpillar electric excavator will enter the market this quarter, with 10 and 20 tonne models commercially available later in the year.

Power train manufacturer Cummins explained how they are investing US$500 million over three years in developing electric power trains for their OEM customers. Their investment started in 2018. They already have a 3.5 tonne electric excavator in the market through their partnership with Hyundai. The excavator can operate for 8 hours on its batteries. Its quiet operation is a big additional benefit in urban construction sites. Cummins anticipates electric terminal tractors and electric forklifts to be cost-effective on a total cost of ownership basis. Other machinery is in the pipeline as the technology develops.

A variety of very heavy duty 100% electric vehicles have been operating in the mining sector for a few years now – where combustion and exhaust emissions are a major hazard underground. It’s good to see this technology being brought to the surface to provide benefits for cities.

Electric short-haul aviation

The electrification of commercial aviation is no longer science-fiction. Avinor, operator of 45 of Norway’s airports, has set a target to electrify all domestic aviation by 2040. There are incentives, such as free charging, in place to encourage the uptake of light electric aircraft. The first of these, the Pipistrel Alpha Electro, which has a 130 km range (plus 20% in reserve), is already operating as a training aircraft for pilots.

Avinor’s CEO Dag Falk-Petersen, who is himself a pilot, described how he expects to see the first short-haul electric flights in 12-seater aircraft within the next couple of years. Commercial flights up to 1000 km will come in about 10 years’ time, with up to 2000 km in electric aircraft by 2040. Companies like Airbus, Rolls Royce and Siemens are all working on electric aviation.

Like Norway, New Zealand is highly dependent on aviation for high-speed passenger transport, and has a similar population and geography. Zephyr Airworks’ prototype 100% electric autonomous air taxi is currently going through extensive test flights in Canterbury. Air New Zealand announced last year that it is partnering with Zephyr to bring the world’s first autonomous electric air taxi service to market in New Zealand.

The future for e-transport in NZ

New Zealand and Norway both have high levels of renewable electricity generation. This means that both countries can get substantial CO2 emissions reduction benefits from transport electrification today. Yes, Norway has significant financial incentives to help them transition their passenger vehicles to EVs. This shows that when the purchase price is right, mainstream consumers will adopt this technology.

New Zealand has operating incentives for heavy electric vehicles through the RUC exemption, in addition to other lower operating costs. EECA’s Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund has been supporting companies making the first moves into operating heavy electric vehicles here.

Could these incentives make New Zealand a fast follower of Norway in the uptake of heavy electric vehicles in the freight supply chain? Will New Zealand pip Norway to the post with a world-first electric air taxi service? These are exciting times for transport and a great time to be in the industry.

Liz Yeaman is the managing director and founder of Retyna, a consultancy specialising in electric vehicles and renewable energy for transport; she received a grant from the CILT Transport Research and Educational Trust to attend the Nordic EV Summit