Until recently, even a green tech fanatic like Bill Gates believed that electric trucks would never be economically viable. But in a new interview, Elon Musk revealed numbers that turn this picture upside down. The Tesla Semi, which will start selling in 2021, spends just one kilowatt-hour per kilometer. Why is this so important for the entire planet? And how exactly will truck manufacturers around the world, including Russian ones, suffer from the novelty? Let's try to figure it out.
From a new interview with the head of Tesla, it follows that his electric truck spends several times less energy per kilometer than modern diesel counterparts. Therefore, she needs a much smaller battery than previously thought. According to Musk, the Tesla Semi's battery capacity is only about 500 kilowatt-hours. With such a capacity, it should weigh only 2.5 tons, and not five to ten tons, as industry analysts believed earlier.
And these are not just dry numbers. Earlier estimates said that with batteries weighing 5-10 tons, the payload of the truck would be too small (the law prohibits it from exceeding a certain weight limit). This point of view was succinctly summed up by Bill Gates: electric long-distance trucks "can never take off." In other words, they will never make economic and environmental sense. The new numbers paint a very different picture.
Tesla Semi's energy efficiency means diesel trucks are nearing extinction
A typical western multi-axle truck, popularly called a "wagon", consumes 2, 2-3, 3 kilowatt-hours per kilometer (in the form of diesel fuel). This is not much, in the region of 22-33 liters per 100 kilometers, translating into more familiar fuel consumption figures. However, the lower limit of this range is still achievable only for the most modern trucks of the planet. Truly mass-produced and production trucks still spend 33 liters per 100 kilometers.
According to the calculations of third-party specialists, the energy consumption of an electric truck of the same class should be 1, 15-1, 44 kilowatt-hours per kilometer. Based on this, many experts believed that "the Tesla Semi battery should have a capacity of 1000 kilowatt-hours." This is what Markus Liekamp, head of the automotive engineering department at the Technical University of Munich, said. He summed it up as follows: "It is technically not very feasible [such a battery must be too heavy] and, moreover, it does not make sense both economically and ecologically."
Martin Daum, head of Daimler's truck division, went even further: he said that from a physical point of view, the success of the electric truck is questionable.
However, we now know that the 300-mile (that is, with a range of 480 kilometers with a serious load) version of the Tesla Semi requires a battery of only 500 kilowatt-hours. Consequently, it spends 1, 04 kilowatt-hours per kilometer - three times less than serial diesel counterparts. In principle, something like this could be assumed: the fact is that Tesla is generally known for the extreme energy efficiency of its cars. Its Model 3 has the lowest drag coefficient among production sedans, Model Y among crossovers, and Tesla Semi among trucks (0.36 in total).
Musk is looking for ways to reduce energy costs, even in places "where no one looks." For example, almost all cars in the world keep the surface of disc brakes clean due to their light contact with the metal parts of the brake system. Therefore, after driving fast (in summer), the discs feel hot. This is not the case in Tesla: the cleanliness of the discs and their freedom from corrosion are achieved without touching, so there is no parasitic energy consumption for heating the brake discs. It would seem a trifle, but it is from such trifles that energy efficiency develops, including in the Tesla Semi.
In addition to good aerodynamics and "little things" like those described above, the electric truck has another plus - regenerative braking. The truck is equipped with four electric motors with a total capacity of 1,092 horsepower (844 kilowatts), with a torque of 1,800 Newton meters. During braking, all four begin to take energy from the rotation of the axle, stopping it with little or no use of conventional brakes.
As a result, the bulk of the kinetic energy that a trucker usually loses when braking is returned to Semi's battery again. It may seem that this is not so important: trucks go mainly along the highway, where they rarely brake. In reality, however, when descending downhill gradients, trucks are often forced to use either engine braking or brakes in order not to exceed the permitted speed. Again, in this case, they lose some of their kinetic energy, and in the case of an electric truck, this almost does not happen.
Of course, a truck with an internal combustion engine does not consume electricity, but fuel - and in the US, it costs about 20 cents per kilometer of such a truck. And what about the cost of electric charging for Teslafura?
Mega gas station: what will break the price balance in favor of electric trucks
1, 04 kilowatt-hours per kilometer at Semi can cost significantly less: Tesla promises that Megacharger stations for trucks will refuel them for just seven cents per kilowatt-hour. If someone charges a truck at regular network prices, in the US it is in the region of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. It is unlikely that the cost of electricity on Megacharger can be more than this figure.
How does an American automaker intend to sell electricity to trucks at seven cents per kilowatt-hour when the network price for US retail is 10 cents? The answer to this question is somewhat non-trivial: Megacharger for Semi is the most unusual electric filling station in the world. Large battery packs will be installed on it to store a large amount of energy from the network at night, when its cost is below normal. For the United States, the cost of grid electricity during nighttime dips is often as low as two to four cents per kilowatt hour.
During the daytime, the station will serve customers through the night supply from the station batteries with a capacity of many megawatt-hours, plus from the generation of solar panels located right at the territory of the electric station. As you know, 2,500-5,000 square meters of solar panels can provide a million kilowatt-hours a year - enough to provide millions of kilometers for refueling Tesla Semi stations.
The cost of "solar" electricity in the United States is close to six cents per kilowatt-hour, that is, the company plans to trade the electricity generated at its gas stations practically at cost. This, together with the electricity at night rates, should provide a low cost of refueling for her trucks.
However, we tend to estimate the figure of seven cents per kilowatt-hour as too low. Most likely, the final refueling price will be above seven cents, but still much less than 20 cents per kilometer. Why?
The fact is that Megacharger needs megawatt-hours of station storage capacity. While such storage devices cost at least $ 100 per kilowatt-hour (and then only for promising batteries based on 4680 cells), that is, hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment in storage will have to be spent on each filling station for a truck. This should affect the cost of refueling from it.In addition, in a number of US states there is snow in winter, so in the cold season there will not be much benefit from solar panels that cover gas stations with canopies.
Is the mileage too low at one gas station?
The question arises: will the new truck be enough for 500 kilometers in the basic configuration, or even 800 kilometers in the "top configuration"? Why would he be idle at night? Why, as it was sometimes done in Russia until recently, not to drive a truck around the clock, changing drivers?
There is a sense - and a big one: in countries with real (and not nominal) regulation of work and rest regime (in the USA or many EU countries), a driver cannot drive for more than half a day, then he must stop and rest. Couples of drivers in such states are rarely hired: labor is too expensive, two drivers dramatically increase the cost of a kilometer of a truck's mileage. Therefore, diesel trucks in the States stand for half a day at roadside motels.
Obviously, with an energy reserve of 480 kilometers, the Tesla Semi will require only one half-hour recharge on a "megacharger" per day. 30 minutes of quick refueling of this kind gives energy for 384 kilometers - enough for a 9-10 hour work day.
What carriers will choose: diesel fuel or electricity
So, the cost of "refueling" an electric truck will be lower than that of diesel analogues. There are chances that a similar picture will be even in Russia: our night rate is two to three times lower than the day rate, and megachargers may well use this advantage.
At the same time, Tesla Semi has a number of other advantages over diesel competitors. Due to more than a thousand horsepower, it has radically better dynamics, a high speed of driving upward with a noticeable slope, less noise and a complete absence of exhaust emissions. According to industry experts, the service will be about half the price of classic counterparts. The fact is that the Semi has no gearbox and generally fewer moving parts. There is no need to change the oil, because there is no internal combustion engine, and the brake systems are almost eternal due to regenerative braking. The resource of motors, electric transmission and batteries promised by the manufacturer is 1.6 million kilometers.
It may seem that Tesla has confused something with the battery life. We all know that lithium batteries in phones last a few years, and 1.6 million kilometers for a truck is 10-20 years of service. Where does “conventional lithium batteries” have such a resource? The point here is that Musk's batteries are not "ordinary" at all. They have a very specific composition and form factor.
Their latest generation consists of cylindrical elements with a diameter of 43 millimeters and a height of 60 millimeters. Cells, tightly packed in a battery, are cooled by liquid-cooled heat sinks passing nearby, which ensure a stable temperature regime for the entire unit. As a result, such a battery has the highest resource in the world.
From the enormous power of the engines (at the level of a modern battle tank) and the same colossal moment of the Semi, there are a couple more important advantages. It accelerates much faster and can maintain a very high speed even on a steep hill. When lifting five degrees, the car is capable of going loaded at 96 kilometers per hour. Anyone who has tried to drive behind a loaded truck in the mountains understands how good this is.
And what about the competitors?
Tesla isn't the only company that makes electric trucks. But in order not to waste time, we will cover only one of its competitors, the most advanced. This is eCascadia - analogue of Semi from Daimler. Such a truck also has a load of up to 36 tons (no longer allowed by US laws), and its battery has a similar capacity of 550 kilowatt-hours. But the range of eCascadia is only 400 kilometers. This means that it spends 1.38 kilowatt-hours per kilometer - 1.32 times more than Musk's truck. In other words, Daimler has made a one-quarter less energy efficient truck - and that's a huge gap.
In addition, it charges worse: the manufacturer promises to charge 80% of the battery capacity (320 kilometers) in 90 minutes.Tesla at its gas stations charges the Semi to 80% capacity (384 kilometers) in 30 minutes - and this is a serious advantage if the driver needs to recharge.
Finally, the Semi has another 800 kilometers version that travels twice as far on a single charge as the eCascadia. In fact, acting within the framework of the law, an American trucker can rarely drive more than 800 kilometers per day, after which it may well be charged during a relatively short half-hour rest. This will not work with eCascadia: you have to spend an hour and a half.
Especially a big weakness of Daimler is the lack of its own charging network. Like all classic narrow specialists, the German company does not want to enter new areas of activity. Creation of her own lithium drives of megawatt capacity, such as Tesla's megapacks, is not even included in her plans. Therefore, the carmaker cannot create its own mega-stations with low electricity prices: there is simply nothing to accumulate electricity at a cheap night rate in order to give it to truck customers during the day.
In theory, Daimler could buy other people's batteries and try to copy Tesla's tactics. In reality, this behavior requires a good vision of the future and a lot of courage. Traditional large corporations are rarely capable of both the first and the second. Their management has grown to their places not because they liked to take risks, but exactly the opposite. All large, established organizations avoid risk, so people who are able to reach the top in the local hierarchy are not normally able to “take risks”.
All this means that Daimler is not capable of beating Tesla on the field under any realistic scenario. German trucks will have a shorter range, more expensive and much longer refueling, which means the carrier will choose their American competitor.
The rest of Semi's rivals are even further from it in terms of their parameters than the development of Daimler. How did it happen that Musk, who started making cars at his own factory only in 2012, suddenly made a truck much better than the most experienced player from Germany?
The answer is quite simple: just like he managed to start launching missiles cheaper than such an experienced player as Roscosmos (which no one in the West could have achieved before). The fact is that the head of Tesla is constantly making decisions that the leaders of classic auto concerns simply cannot imagine. He is a new person in the auto business, he has a fresh look, he is not afraid to take risks, setting hyperambitious goals for himself. In the same way as with Semi, at one time it happened with Model 3 and other teslamobiles: Musk simply approached their design much more daringly than all competitors at that time.
What does this mean for the planet
The cost of Semi is 150 thousand dollars for the version with 480 kilometers of run on a single charge and 180 thousand for the 800-kilometer version. This is about one and a half times more than a new diesel truck of the same payload in the United States (it costs 120 thousand). But half the cost of fuel and repairs make it quite competitive against diesel analogues. Of course, for the poorer states, the replacement of the freight fleet will not happen so quickly, but it is inevitable: as the electric trucks in the first world countries age, their used versions will gradually drift in all directions.
Tesla superchargers are already starting to appear in the developing world, and as a result, their spread is inevitable even in Russia. After all, Musk plans to produce up to 20 million cars a year, and in different price categories. This is more than any existing car manufacturer, which means that it will have to deploy a network of gas stations around the world. In other words, fast charging of electric trucks will also not become a serious brake on their implementation across the planet already in the 2030s.
Environmental considerations will force many countries to ban diesel trucks as early as the 2040s - and by 2050, the vast majority of trucks are at risk of being electric.
Meanwhile, trucks consume (in the form of diesel fuel) 20% of today's oil production - 17 million barrels per day. Their electrification will be a colossal step for the entire global economy. Naked Science has already written that this will not be a disaster for oil producers - due to the fact that the production of plastics is growing at a tremendous pace. Rather, it will be a boon for them, as it will allow them to cope with the growing demand for deep oil refining products without excessive investment in new production.
But for everyone else, the importance of electrification of trucks is difficult to overestimate. Trucks are one of the main sources of air pollution, including micrometer-sized particulate matter (PM 2, 5) and a number of others. Diesel emits more of them than a gasoline engine running at the same power, so it is diesel that is responsible for half of all air pollution from land transport.
According to a 2015 study, 385,000 people died from the emissions of diesel trucks around the planet. Back in 2010, the number of premature deaths from diesel truck exhaust was only 361,000. That is, only in the 21st century, diesel trucks have spoiled the air on the planet so much that they caused the death of many millions of people.
Unfortunately, the numbers of premature mortality, as well as excess - for example, during the current coronavirus epidemic in Russia - rarely come to the attention of politicians around the world. None of them on this planet have ever said: "Diesel trucks must be replaced with electric ones in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives a year." Politicians normally do not know anything about these 385 thousand annual victims of trucks.
However, the spread in the West of apocalyptic (albeit incorrect) expectations of global warming constantly pushes local politicians to fight against anything that emits CO2. Electric trucks seem like the best way to do this. After all, the consumption of liquid fuel by trucks in the past 20 years has been growing faster than that of passenger cars (due to the rapid growth of the world economy). Undoubtedly, the Western authorities will do everything to accelerate the electrification of trucks in their countries.
Fortunately, this will inevitably lead to the electrification of trucks in Russia - if not in the 2030s, as in the developed world, then at the latest in the 2040s. The fact is that as the production of diesel trucks abroad shrinks, Russian manufacturers will have nowhere to get components for engines and transmissions. And they did not bother with the creation of a full-fledged production of both in Russia. At some point, domestic truck manufacturers (those that remain) will either die or be forced to switch to the assembly of electric trucks, whose components are supplied from abroad. And the sooner they realize the inevitability of such a choice, the more chances they have for at least some kind of survival.
In other words, Tesla Semi only now looks like news especially for the first world. In reality, it will inevitably trigger a global revolution in land transportation. This car and its counterparts from other manufacturers - and they will have to learn to do just as well, otherwise they will die - will outstrip diesel trucks in sales in the next 15-20 years. And then they will completely send them to the dustbin of history. And this is undeniably very good news.