Freight Trucks in India are Primed for Electrification

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Diesel trucks account for more than seventy percent of all road freight movement in India, a share that has been steadily rising for over two decades. Diesel trucks also account for about 57% of petroleum used for transportation in India, which imports 88% of its crude oil consumption (with crude oil accounting for 16% of all imports). Diesel-based trucking is therefore a major contributor to concerns related to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, cost of freight, balance of trade and energy security. Recent dramatic improvements in battery costs and energy density have created opportunities for truck electrification that were seldom thought possible just a few years ago. This study analyzes the potential for truck electrification to reduce India’s emissions, fuel imports, and cost of freight through an estimation of cost of production and operation based on international battery prices. We find that battery electric trucks (BET), once mature, could have lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than diesel trucks across multiple weight classes and they also mitigate fuel price volatility, an issue endemic to diesel trucking. BETs might entail a small payload penalty which can be mitigated through light weighting strategies and any revenue losses offset by fuel cost savings. Simple calculations suggest that, at the current average grid emissions intensity for India, BETs reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of freight by 9% to 35% across different classes of trucks when compared to diesel in addition to eliminating air pollution along highways and congested areas.  Nevertheless, as is often the case for infant industries which promise external benefits (reduce pollution and create knowledge spillovers), sustained policy support will be needed for the BET industry if it is to attain commercial viability: achieving minimum scale will only occur after a long maturation phase, during which electric trucks may entail both higher upfront cost and total cost of ownership relative to diesel trucks. To this end, complementing the existing Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme with additional policies such as subsidies for early adopters, as well as binding obligations on truck manufacturers and large fleet owners to induct a certain quantity or share of BETs annually – will be critical for creating certainty for investors and the economies of scale needed to stimulate a positive feedback cycle of higher deployment and lower costs. India has already successfully leveraged renewable purchase obligations, to achieve significant deployment of low-cost renewable energy; the time is now right to consider how such an approach could help India reduce its dependence of diesel for trucking.

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