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Heavy truck sector faces a bumpy road to 2030

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 4/27/2018 7:58:00 AM

Even with aggressive adoption of disruptive technologies, such as electric vehicles, drones, and double trailers, Canada’s heavy truck sector is not likely to deliver its fair share of the country’s 2030 greenhouse gas reductions.

In a report released April 26, 2018, “Taking Us Further Down the Road: Disruptive Technologies in Heavy-Duty Road Freight”, the Conference Board of Canada projects that the heavy truck sector can, at best, cut its emissions to 42 Mt in 2030, and that’s using a wide range of new and untried technologies and assuming they perform as advertised. That would be a big drop from current projections, but still short of the 34 Mt that would represent a 30% reduction from 2005 emissions, which is the national objective.

The modelling also shows that aggressive adoption of new technologies will continue to pay dividends after 2030. The 34 Mt-threshold could be reached later in the decade, and by 2050, emissions from the sector would be just over half of what they were in 2005.

Other models presented in the report — a conservative reference model and a model involving moderate adoption of disruptive technologies — both show the sector falling well short of 2030 targets and a growth in emissions in the 2030-2050 period.

For this sector at least, disruptive technologies will have to be adopted at a furious pace. That will present a challenge because it runs counter to the culture and economics of the heavy truck sector.

The report acknowledges that it does not take into account the cost and risk of early adoption of new technologies. Furthermore, new technologies tend not to drive up the resale value of heavy trucks. Some can hurt resale value, and the industry is built around fleet turnover, with companies replacing their fleets every three to six years. Fleet owners look for a full return on investment on new technologies at roughly the midpoint of the ownership period, meaning that a new technology has to pay for itself in no more than three years. That’s a difficult standard to meet.

The lesson is that if this sector is to carry its fair share of Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction burden, there need to be more emissions-reduction technologies available to the industry, and behavioural changes that encourage their adoption.

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