The California Air Resources Board (CARB) proposed a regulation that would require manufacturers to sell only “zero-emission” medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the state by 2040. Box trucks and delivery vans would have to switch sooner. According to the proposal, in 2024, all new box trucks, delivery vans, and freight trucks that travel short distances must be zero emission. The remainder of the fleet would have to fully phase out of diesel by 2035. City, county, and other state government trucks are required to be all-electric by 2027. Federal fleets and “high priority fleets” – classified as fleets with 50 or more trucks that bring in $50 million or more in annual revenue – can either phase in the use of zero-emission vehicles or begin purchasing all zero-emission vehicles in 2024 and retire vehicles with combustion engines at “the end of their useful life.” By 2040, all new big rigs must be zero emission and there are plans to fully phase out diesel-powered trucks by 2045. Large fleet operators like Amazon, Walmart and other companies would convert all their trucks operating in the state to zero-emission vehicles by 2042. There are around 1.8 million big rigs among the 30 million registered vehicles in the state.
The CARB proposal is open for public comment. Transportation accounts for 41 percent of the state’s emissions inventory, and medium and heavy-duty trucks contribute a quarter of the sector’s emissions. The ban on diesel trucks comes after regulators in the state banned the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035. The Clean Air Act allows California to set its own clean air rules and other states can choose to adopt them. The California regulations that ban gasoline vehicles establish annual targets for the share of zero-emission vehicles automakers must sell in the state, starting at 35 percent in 2026, ramping up to 68 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2035.
Issues with the Ban on Diesel Trucks
According to the California Trucking Association, technological advancements are needed before the plan to ban diesel trucks can work. Battery densities have to improve and charging speeds have to get much faster for the regulation to be feasible. The current charging infrastructure is nearly non-existent. It takes 2 to 4 hours for trucks to charge at today’s charging speeds, which compares to a diesel truck that normally refills in five to 15 minutes. Fast chargers take a shorter time but require an immense amount of energy that could strain the power grid, especially during Flex Alerts, which the California system operator had to issue during heat waves in California.
It is unclear whether the state’s electric grid can handle the electric demands from phasing out gasoline cars and diesel trucks when the grid has trouble getting through its heat waves, especially when charging such could consume as much as 3 megawatts of power. In fact, the National Renewable energy Laboratory (NREL) is working on a charging station that would consume 3.75 megawatts (MW) of power for quick charging trucks. “NREL notes that at 3.75 MW a single vehicle would use equivalent power to the average power needed for 3,200 U.S. homes! It would transfer the daily energy consumption of a typical home in about 28 seconds.”
The California Trucking Association estimates that the charging infrastructure necessary to implement the CARB proposal will require 65 to 160 megawatts and the California Energy Commission estimates that 157,000 chargers are necessary by 2030 to support the transition. The resources board has acknowledged that an “extreme high-powered charging system” that would reduce vehicle charge times to less than an hour is needed, but noted that the technology is still in development. The faster the charge, the more power that is needed. According to the trucking industry, even if California built up the charging infrastructure starting immediately, it is unlikely that there would be enough charging infrastructure to support the 400,000 big rigs traveling the state by the deadline. There are currently only 1,900 medium- and heavy-duty “zero-emission” vehicles operating in California, most of which are transit busses.
A Shortage of Diesel
Diesel prices in California are $6.30 a gallon—the highest in the nation (about a $1 more than the national average) and 32 percent higher than a year ago—dropping from $7.01 on June 18. The soaring prices are the result of insufficient supply to meet demand caused by reduced production of petroleum products from refineries undergoing maintenance and from fewer operating refineries. California requires a special blend of fuels that only its own refineries can produce. California refineries, similar to U.S. refineries, have been closing due to an onerous regulatory environment, rich inducements to switch to biofuels and to demand destruction due to COVID lockdowns. Diesel supplies in the United States are currently at their lowest levels since 2008, with less than 25 days of commercial inventory left, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Electric Vehicles Would Increase Electric Demand Immensely
A recent paper in Applied Energy shows the impact of electric cars on the grid. Currently, there are 2.5 million electric vehicles in the United States and four out of five owners charge their cars overnight, which puts a strain on the power grid. By 2025, the United States is estimated to have more than 20 million electric vehicles on its roads. According to Bloomberg, by 2030, more than half of new car sales will be electric. If Bloomberg’s projection proves to be correct, it will take 5.4 gigawatts of energy storage to charge electric vehicles—about the generating power from 5.4 nuclear power plants. There is not enough generating capacity to handle that demand and U.S. power grids are not equipped to handle the load.
One of the most common vehicles in American industry, the diesel truck, is known to be cheap, easy to run and durable, able to carry tons of cargo thousands of miles. But, California intends to phase it out. The new regulations would require a buildup of electric charging infrastructure, placing new stresses on California’s already fragile power grid and force the trucking industry to reshape how it does business. Because of California’s special treatment under the Clean Air Act, it can set its own regulations and other states are allowed to follow.
California Governor Newsom wants to export California’s energy policies nationwide, and President Biden is in his camp, so Americans need to be aware of what could be coming—destruction of the U.S. energy system by throwing it into potential blackouts due to insufficient supply to handle the immense electrification and soaring electricity prices that one out of six American households already cannot afford. Combined with an increasingly erratic system powered by wind and solar energy that does not deliver energy 24/7 – another goal of Biden’s proposals for net-zero – Americans may find themselves confronted with serious changes in the way they currently lead their lives.