According to author Robert Bryce, the move away from diesel will take more than just a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The idea that we can make a quick transition to renewables is ignoring their low power density and the need for a lot of land,” said Bryce, who highlighted this during his presentation at this year’s virtual Heavy Duty Dialogue. While wind and solar energy reduce overall emissions and are often sweetened by the availability of government subsides, they are not always the most popular choice, he added.
In fact, many of these projects are met with opposition from local residents. He cited protests on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where more than 200 protestors were arrested while protesting a wind energy project being built near the small village of Kahuku.
“This friction is going to get even greater,” added Bryce, pointing to the fact that while many in the trucking industry are looking to electric as the next great hope, there are a number of roadblocks in the way. “Weight matters in trucks, and energy density is very important when you’re moving things around.”
For instance, in terms of energy density, diesel fuel contains 12,700 watt-hours per kilogram, while lithium-ion batteries only contain 160. In other words, you are going need a lot more storage space — and weight — to power a battery-electric truck than a diesel one.
Also, where is the energy going to come from? Infrastructure has always been an issue when it comes to the electric revolution, but, as Bryce pointed out during his presentation, it's not just the infrastructure, but the transmission of the power itself.
“In a grid where you’re already having blackouts, is this realistic?” asked Bryce, speaking specifically of California and its recent need to undergo rolling blackouts to reduce the possibility of over-taxing the power grid. “Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a lot of energy.”
According to Bryce, there is no short-term answer, pointing to the fact that even increasing development of nuclear power plants to support the increased need for electricity would take years. Currently, the U.S. has 98 operating nuclear power reactors in 30 states, with only two new plants currently being built. Compared to China and India, which are building 11 and 7 new plants, respectively, the U.S. is not moving in the right direction, added Bryce, who is pro-nuclear.
“We need politicians that are pro-nuclear and pro-government,” he added, explaining that to get more plants built, we need more government involvement, “and the problem is that Republicans are pro-nuclear but anti-government, and Democrats are pro-government but anti-nuclear.”