Alternative fuels infrastructure in Europe: Electric trucks and buses can’t wait another decade

Trucks and buses emitted close to 230 million tonnes of CO2 in Europe in 2018, or 6% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Their emissions have been on the rise over the past decade, outpacing other vehicle segments. Thus, any decarbonization pathway for heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) must invariably include zero-emission technologies, such as battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains. In addition to key policies driving the supply of electric HDVs, most notably the European heavy-duty vehicles CO2 standards, it is crucial to ensure the rapid deployment of the required infrastructure, such as high-power chargers and high-capacity hydrogen refueling stations. The proposal for the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), released as part of the Fit for 55 package, aims to fill that regulatory gap. While the AFIR proposal introduces much needed legally binding Europe-wide infrastructure targets for HDVs, it falls short on ambition based on misaligned market projections that need to be reconsidered.

The AFIR proposal is ground-breaking, as it represents the first regulatory attempt to drive the deployment of charging and refuelling infrastructure for zero emission trucks and buses. It sets minimum targets for charging station density along the Trans-European Network for Transport (TEN-T), its corresponding urban nodes, and overnight parking areas. Along the TEN-T core, the proposal states the total power capacity of the charging stations should be at least 1,400 kW installed every 60 km in both directions by 2025, including at least one charging point with a minimum power of 350 kW. The proposed charging station total power capacity requirements increase to 3,500 kW by 2030. Along urban nodes connected to the TEN-T, charging stations dedicated to HDVs should have a total capacity of at least 600 kW, consisting of charging points with a minimum power of 150 kW. Finally, each identified safe and secure overnight parking area for trucks should be equipped with at least one 100-kW charger.

But are the AFIR targets sufficient to meet the needs of a rapidly growing zero-emission fleet of heavy vehicles in Europe? We dove into the details of the regulatory proposal and its impact assessment study and found that the AFIR targets underestimates the true amount of charging needed. This is due to misaligned forecasting on two key inputs: how many electric trucks will be on the road and what types of trucks will be going electric by 2030?

The European Commission’s impact assessment study for determining charging stations density and power capacity for electric trucks and buses assumes a low market uptake of electric heavy-duty vehicles by 2030, estimated at 170,000 units. According to our estimates and following OEMs announcements  to increase their market share of zero-emission HDVs, close to 820,000 zero-emissions trucks and buses—including battery and fuel cell electric technologies—will be roaming the European transport network by 2030, five times more than what is assumed by the Commission. Moreover, to meet the European Climate Law targets, we estimate that 1,360,000 zero-emission trucks and buses must be on the road by 2030. This huge difference in the estimated number of electric trucks and buses puts into question whether the suggested infrastructure targets will be sufficient to enable the rapid transition to zero-emission HDVs.

In addition, the Commission’s report argues that the decarbonization of long-haulers will most likely be delayed beyond 2030 and excluded them from the analysis. However, our recent research has shown that electrification of long-haulers is not only viable from a technology perspective, but also from an economic one. Most long-haul applications in Europe can switch to battery-electric technology before the end of the decade.

Manufacturer announcements regarding truck model development suggest that the market uptake of zero-emission long-haul trucks could be significant by 2030—close to 300,000 long-haul trucks according to truck makers’ pledges. If charging infrastructure deployment is not enough to support strong market growth, the pessimistic projections used in the AFIR proposal around the electrification of long-haul trucks—the highest CO2-emitting truck segment—can become a self-fullfilling prophecy.

The AFIR proposal, due to its pessimistic market projections, falls short of what is required to push the market uptake of zero-emission HDVs to achieve the EU’s carbon neutrality goal. This must be corrected to increase the proposed power capacity and the number of charging points per charging station along the Trans-European Network for Transport. In addition, increasing the charging station power capacity and the individual charger’s power capacity at urban nodes is highly recommended, as such stations will be used by several HDV segments. Finally, and just as important, overnight parking areas should be much better equipped with chargers and charging capacity. In addition, more research is needed to determine the electric charging needs of trucks and buses in Europe. We are currently doing so, following the methodological framework we developed for a similar assessment in the United States.

In a time when no expense should be spared to immediately start promoting zero-emission technologies to meet EU climate targets, the AFIR proposal provides a first step in the right direction. However, this is not enough; the AFIR targets must be aligned with the magnitude of the challenge in order to push forward the transition to zero-emission trucks and buses.

Electric trucks and buses can’t wait another decade.