In response to Can the Electric Grid Handle Self-Driving Electric Trucks? I received point and counterpoint emails, plus a request for a debate.

The debate request is not with me. Rather, reader Chris asked for a debate between someone Chris Martensen interviewed on his Peak Prosperity site and EEUI, an Electrical Engineer in the Utility Industry, someone whose comments I posted previously.

My source needs to remain anonymous so perhaps the debate needs to be on paper. Perhaps not. I will see who is willing and who isn’t.

EEUI is convinced (and so am I) that electric is going to happen, but perhaps for different reasons. EEUI writes …

As to the question of whether the grid can handle the load growth from electric long haul trucking, the answer is yes.

Nationwide, combination trucks travel about 170,000 million miles per year. At 2kWh per mile, this is a lot of load. It would increase energy sales by about 10%. Or about 30% in the rural part of the country where I work.

If energy sales magically increased by 10% tomorrow, it would cause problems in some parts of the country – mostly in areas where building transmission and distribution lines are hard because of population density. The good news is that most long haul miles are driven in rural areas. The other good news is that most parts of the country only have power supply problems for a few hours per day during a few days per year. Don’t charge the trucks in urban areas with reliability problems during those few dozen hours of the year and there will be no problems. Given that they’ll be automated, controlling when and where they recharge shouldn’t be a major problem.

In reality, the average long haul truck is used for several years before being replaced. And there is essentially zero electric truck manufacturing capacity. And they would be illegal to operate today.

A ten-year transition to full electric freight would be a major miracle. 10% load growth in ten years is well within historic norms.

The industry currently expects loads to be pretty flat for the next decade. 10% load growth over a decade would be very welcome.

For questions about transit times, I’m mostly interested in 1000+ mile trips because of my rural area. Human drivers can only legally drive 11 hours per day. A 200-mile range truck that stopped to recharge for 1.5 hours every 3 hours. 46% of the time driving vs 67%. With bigger batteries, faster chargers, battery swaps, the automated truck would eventually get to close to being on the road 100% of the time. I was just looking at what would be easily doable today.

New trucks cost about $150k. A 400kWh to get a 200-mile range costs about $80k based on Tesla’s cost claims. It is possible that an electric truck would cost about the same as a diesel. And automation might be nearly free, too. I used a 100% price increase to be safe.


Debate Request

Reader Chris wrote …

Dear Mish,

It would interesting hear a debate between the contributor to your recent article on truck electrification and Alice Friedman who ascertains that it is not currently viable to electrify trucks based on the limitations of the technology vs the efficiency of diesel engines.

Here is an Interview at Peak Prosperity.


Pragmatic Opinion

It is safe to say that EEUI, Chris Martenson at Peak Prosperity, and Alice Friedman all know far more details than I do about current technology than I do.

But I am confident that EEUI is correct. Why?

  • Many players compete in the game: Google, Amazon, GM, Ford, Tesla, Nikola, Toyota, Uber, and countless others
  • The Department of Transportation wants to make this happen
  • The rewards are huge
  • Progress grows by leap and bounds every year

My four points pertain to self-driving cars in general, not just electric, but competition ensures success on all fronts as I see it.

Fronts of Attack

The fronts of attack on the problem are immense. There will be huge winners and bankrupt ideas as a result.

But there will be winners, most likely multiple winners.

On May 16, 2016, I wrote “Nikola One” First-Ever 2000 horsepower (HP) Electric Class 8 Semi-Truck.

Nikola One Lease

Nikola seeks to use a natural gas electric hybrid as its solution. Some call it vaporware. I suggest it’s far more advanced than vaporware, but where the hell is it?

Actually, it matters not. What matters in my pragmatic view is competition is so intense, the rewards so great, that all the problems people view insurmountable will be solved by 2021 at the latest.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock.