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Diesel Trucks Don't Just Pollute, They Waste Money

A new study has found that companies would be vastly better off replacing their urban delivery fleet with electric vehicles. Bonus: They can make money selling the power from the batteries back to the power company at night.

A lot of us who live in cities would like to see businesses use something other than, loud, smelly diesel trucks to make deliveries. But, practically speaking, the numbers have to add up before we can expect something cleaner. And, at the moment, electric trucks cost about three times as much as standard diesel ones (about $150,000).

The good news from a study by MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics is that—no surprise—operators can hope to make back a lot of that extra cost in lower expenses. The study finds that, at current prices, running an electric truck is 9% to 12% cheaper than diesel, given a 70-mile-a-day, 253-day-a-year schedule.

But what’s potentially game changing, the study finds, is a secondary use for the e-trucks: grid stabilization. Using the batteries of electric trucks for so-called vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services—in other words, helping grid operators to regulate electricity demand-and-supply—could reduce costs by another 11% a year. Which is more than chump change.

"It’s close to break-even without it", says Jarrod Goentzel, director of the Renewable Energy Delivery Project at the Center. "But the V2G revenue definitely makes the electric truck more cost-effecitve than diesel."

MIT’s study is based on data from Staples, an early adopter of electric trucks. It models costs for a fleet of 250 vehicles, then adds in the potential V2G revenue based on a 12-hour overnight availability. Using figures from a grid operator in New England, which already pays for so-called "regulation services," it finds that single trucks could bring in $900 to $1,400 a year.

Grid operators are looking for grid-balancing capacity as they bring on intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar. V2G services offer both storage—if producers have over-capacity—and back-up power. Studies have found that EVs could be worth up to $4,000 to their owners as batteries.

Goentzel says grid operators are more likely to look to commercial fleets, rather than consumer EVs, because the trucks are parked in the same location, and run on predictable schedules. It is more difficult to aggregate consumer EVs—though they do have the advantage of being available during the day when utilities most need extra power. And some utilities are exploring the potential.

Of course, the benefits of EVs go beyond direct cost savings, both for companies and the urban environment. For one, Goentzel says Staples has been pleasantly surprised by how much its drivers enjoy the trucks.

"The drivers don’t want to go back to the diesels. That can make a big difference. It’s one thing to say it’s cost effective. But it’s also important for your employees to have a good work environment."

Here’s hoping we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier.

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