Electric Everything, Part 4 — Buses, Trucks, Trailers, and More!

In parts one, two, and three of this “Electric Everything” series, I listed 43 things that have been electrified, mostly in recent years — from tiny scooters to giant ferries and ships, and everything in between. If we want to save the planet, we must electrify everything as soon as possible and convert to clean electricity generation.

Mark Jacobson of Stanford University has written a series of articles with more or less the title “100% Energy from Wind, Water, and Solar.” His first article was published in Scientific American in 2009. In March of 2011, “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power … Part I” was written. In addition, in 2015, Jacobson first published a roadmap of renewable energy from wind, water, and solar (WWS) for all US 50 states. He has since published road maps for providing 100% energy supplies from wind, water, and solar for every US state and 46 countries minute by minute. This is especially relevant because wind and solar are intermittent sources and clean electricity generation must meet demand. We need to build out the electrical grid to transmit clean power over long distances. We also need to build out pumped water storage to fill in the gaps in wind and solar generation. Read Jacobson for the explanation for rejecting nuclear or any other source from the mix.

The bottom line is that Jacobson has presented a path where the entire global electrical energy supply can be derived 100% from clean sources. When first presented, the cost of converting to such a system would have required expenditures on the order of magnitude of what the US spent for WWII. In the meantime, the cost of wind and solar power generation has become so cheap that this conversion will be cheaper than continuing to generate power using fossil fuel.

Conversion from fossil fuel generation to clean generation will happen eventually through normal economics. However, to save the planet, this needs to be accelerated by government subsidies and regulation.

Jacobson makes the case that everything — including all vehicles, building heating, steel production, and cement production — must also be converted to 100% electric power. The states of California and Washington got the message. They have passed regulations that no fossil gas lines can be connected to new construction.

As individuals, we have little power to speed the conversion of industrial sources of power to electricity. However, we can assume that there will be dramatic progress towards clean electrical power generation. We can assume that any electricity we consume as individuals will eventually come from totally clean sources. In the meantime, we can help turn the tide away from fossil fuel toward 100% electric power consumption.

What we can do as individuals is reduce our own consumption of power as much as possible and convert the rest to 100% electricity.

Individuals should start with the biggest or at least the easiest things first:

  1. Upgrade your house to use as little energy as possible through increased insulation, low-heat-loss windows, and sealing of all air leaks.
  2. Convert all light bulbs to LEDs. (LEDs use 1/10 the power of incandescent bulbs.)
  3. Convert gas stovetops to electricity if needed.
  4. Replace all fossil-fuel-consuming vehicles with electric vehicles.
  5. Replace your gas furnace with a heat pump.
  6. Replace your water heater with a heat pump.
  7. Convert all yard and workshop tools to battery electric.
  8. Install solar panels on your roof so that the electricity you use now comes from a clean source and you don’t have to wait for the power grid to become clean.
  9. Install a home electricity storage system from companies like Tesla and Generac for backup power in emergencies and complete independence from your local power company.

Figure 1: Photo taken soon after I had solar panels installed on my house in Lindon, Utah. I could then say: I’m driving my EV on sunshine. March 12, 2016. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Converting your fossil gas furnace was something I covered in part two. Replacing your gasoline-burning car is covered in parts one, two, three, and four. I installed solar panels on my roof 8 years ago. At that time, it cost $20,000 for my 20 panel system after the federal government subsidy. Solar power prices have dropped almost 90% in the last 10 years, so you could spend much less for a new installation. Even with an electric car, my electric bill is as low as $10/month in the spring when sun is already high in the sky but air conditioning isn’t needed. I have saved many thousands of dollars over the last 8 years.

Challenges for Converting All Vehicles to Electricity

Cost: The cost of EVs is coming down and will reach parity within the next five years. In some classes, they are already at parity. Also, the fuel and maintenance costs for EVs are much lower, so the total cost of ownership is already at parity or far past it.

Cross country driving: The Tesla Supercharging network already makes it practical to drive a Tesla cross-country. Cross-country driving for other brands will be possible in the next five years. Also, Tesla plans to open its Supercharging network to other brands. at least in some regions.

Charging: Those with garages wired for 220-volt service can install “quick charging” for about $200. If needed, it will cost about $500 depending on the distance to run 220 volt AC to your garage. A splitter for the clothes dryer outlet will solve the problem for others. If you live in a condo, work with other residents to get power extended to your parking garage. If getting 220 volt service is prohibitively expensive or impossible, or just not needed, you can charge at 110 volts for local driving and use nearby fast charging or Supercharging for longer trips. Those with on-street parking may be able to run a power cord from the house to the street. Others will have to rely exclusively on nearby fast charging.

Supplemental Products

There are a couple of specific products or concepts that can support electrifying transport that I have not yet covered. See below.

Range Extenders and Electric Trailers

When the first electrified vehicles came out with the Toyota Prius in 1997, the batteries were so small that you were lucky to proceed at idle speed for a few minutes solely on electric power. Enterprising owners rigged up trailers with battery packs or generators to increase the all-electric range of their cars.

Figure 2: EV range extender trailer. Image courtesy of EP Tender.

As you can see in Figure 2, range-extending trailers are still available today for making long trips in short-range cars. From personal experience, I know that I have lost 40% of my range by putting two big e-bikes on the back of my long-range Tesla Model 3. I can still travel cross-country, but I must plan carefully. You can imagine how much range you would lose pulling a decent-sized trailer. The obvious solution is to pull a trailer that has its own electric drive system. One company has developed just the electric drive system, and Air Stream has developed the whole package.

Figure 3: eStream electric drive trailer. Image courtesy of Airstream.

The Airstream eStream senses the speed and acceleration of the towing vehicle and adjusts its power assist accordingly. It also comes with a remote so that you can park the trailer without using the tow vehicle. The battery is big enough to match the range of the towing vehicle.

Everything Electric Updates

Since the first three parts of “Everything Electric” were written, there has been further progress in electrification.

Electric Aircraft

Figure 4: Embraer prototype electric aircraft. Artwork by Embraer.

Numerous companies are now developing vertical takeoff and conventional tube electric aircraft with either battery or fuel cell power sources. Some of the companies are Embraer, Eviation, magniX, Pipistrela, Bye Aerospace, Ampaire, Zunum Aero, and Heart Aerospace. Heart Aerospace has taken orders for 200 planes from United Airlines. Look into those companies’ websites or social media accounts for continuing news on what they are doing. One spicy piece of news regarding Eviation is that, even as it is approaching a historic first flight, the CEO has been ousted.

Electric Freight Locomotives

Figure 5: Rio Tinto orders electric locomotives. Image courtesy of Wabtech.

Especially in North America and Australia, very few routes have overhead pantograph power delivery systems. Therefore, in those areas, another delivery system is needed for electrification. Numerous companies are converting diesel electric freight train locomotives to battery or fuel cell power. Companies like Wabtech are taking orders for e-locomotives in Canada, Australia, and Europe. Just this year already, Wabtech has taken orders from BHP Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO), Rio Tinto, Union Pacific Railroad, and perhaps others.

Tesla Progress

Figure 6: Tesla Texas Gigafactory. Photo courtesy of Tesla.

Tesla has immense factories in Austin, Texas, and Berlin, Germany, that have completed construction and are on the verge of starting serial production. Both factories have produced a small number of finished Model Y vehicles. Tesla delivered 936,132 vehicles and produced almost as many in 2021. If the Austin and Berlin factories gear up quickly, Tesla should reach a rate of 2 million vehicles/year soon. Auto companies around the world are making massive increases in the number and types of EVs to be produced in 2022 and beyond, still led by Tesla.

EV Market Share Keeps Growing

In December 2021, plugin electric vehicle sales in Norway were 90% of auto sales. In Sweden, they were 54.3%; in Germany, 34.7%; in the Netherlands, 30%; in China, 21.3%; and in California, probably 15%. The world and California have reached the tipping point and the rest of the US will follow soon.

My advice for individuals: Don’t buy another gas vehicle!  You don’t want to get stuck with a fossil gasoline car that has no resale value.

Electric Truck Progress

Figure 7: Kenworth electric trucks. Image courtesy of Kenworth.

When Tesla revealed two prototype battery electric semis in 2017, many observers thought the idea was preposterous. In some sense, they were correct, since here we are 5 years later and Tesla has yet to begin serial production. It seems Tesla delivered a few prototypes to PepsiCo recently, but true serial production won’t happen until 2023, because Tesla’s new, denser, more powerful battery cells won’t be prolific enough until then. However, numerous other companies — like Kenworth (See Figure 7), Volvo, Mercedes, Rivian, Chrysler Ram, Arrival, BYD, Daimler, Ford, Nikola, Workhorse — and many others are already building or planning to build battery electric trucks.

Electric School Bus Progress

Figure 8: Electric school buses. Image courtesy of Lion Electric.

There are nearly 500,000 school buses in the US. School buses are only used for a few hours every day and sit idle for hours when kids are at school as well as at night. Many have very short routes. Idling school buses subject young children to harmful combustion products. For these reasons, school buses are an ideal place for electrification. However, as of now, only a very small fraction of US buses are electric drive.

At this time, there are 1700 electric school buses in the US. Most states have at least one or two. California has 850 and Maryland has 331. The important thing is the tide is beginning to turn. The recently passed US Infrastructure Bill allocates $5 billion to upgrade school buses, with half set aside for zero-emission buses. This will mean that we will reach the tipping point on the conversion of school buses from fossil fuel to battery electric.

$6 Billion Contract for New USPS Vehicles: Fossil Gasoline or Battery Electric?

Figure 9: Proposed electric US Postal Service vehicle. Image courtesy of Workhorse.

The USPS has more that 230,000 vehicles. 190,000 are the kind that we see delivering mail 6 days per week. Many of the current vehicles are 35 years old. President Biden has a goal of converting the entire current public and private fleet of vehicles to battery electric drive ASAP. What better way to start than to make all government vehicle purchases 100% electric. There is a $6 billion contract to update the current fleet of USPS vehicles, and Biden would love to see these all be electric. However, under the direction of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee that Democrats would love to get rid of, the contract has been awarded to Oshkosh Defense, which has specified that only 10% of the new vehicles will be electric.

Will there be a happy ending?


 

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