Decarbonising freight: will Sweden’s eHighway take us in the right direction?

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Publish date: July 5, 2016

Sweden last month became one of the first countries to introduce a highway with overhead electrical wires to power trucks. The so-called eHighway project consists of a 2 km line of electric light rail cables in Sandviken, north of Stockholm, and will run for a trial period of 2 years. While this is a step in the right direction in decarbonising freight, Bellona urges for the enforcement of stringent EU truck fuel-efficiency legislation and in turn the transition to full electrification.

The result of a collaborative effort between Scania and Siemens, the eHighway project allows trucks to connect and disconnect from the power source using intelligent pantographs. The combination of a hybrid drive system secures trucks more flexibility in driving while disconnected from the electricity grid. Trucks’ braking energy can be reversed to charge truck batteries, power other vehicles connected to the system or feed back into the electricity grid.

While these efforts take us in the right direction, we should draw lessons from the Dieselgate scandal and strive to go beyond hybrid and ‘clean diesel’ to fully electric transport. Freight should not be an exception in this transition.

Why freight emissions cannot be ignored

The eHighway project is welcomed as it comes at a time when CO2 emissions stemming from road freight are the fastest growing segment of land transport both in the EU and globally. The world’s freight is predominantly transported via trucks, even when goods are shipped or flown around the world; it is hardly ever the case that they are not delivered to the end of the supply chain by trucks. While in the EU trucks only make up less than 5% of all road vehicles, they are responsible for 25% of total CO2 emissions.

What makes this worse is that, unlike the US, China and Japan, Europe currently has no fuel efficiency standards for trucks. This has resulted in limited innovation and a stable carbon footprint of trucks over the past two decades.

This underlines the importance of freeing trucks from their dependence on fossil fuels in view of delivering on the EU’s climate targets and even more so the 1.5°C target aimed at under the Paris deal. Decarbonising freight will also be crucial for tackling air pollution: the single largest environmental health risk on the continent, responsible for more than 430 000 premature deaths in Europe.

So what needs to be done?

The EU has committed itself to a collective target of 30% emission reductions from transport by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. How the burden of achieving it will be shared among EU Member States is currently being negotiated. In fact the Commission will be presenting its post-2020 Effort Sharing Decision proposal this summer, along with new national CO2 emission reduction targets for transport. What is more, this will be accompanied by a Low Carbon Mobility Strategy which will outline plans for tackling trucks’ CO2 emissions.

One important element that this strategy should feature is a commitment to the enforcement of stringent fuel-efficiency standards for trucks. This will give a much-needed impetus for investments in decarbonising and electrifying freight transport, and will put us on the right track to attaining EU and global climate targets. In fact, a recent study by the ICCT finds that the implementation of fuel efficiency standards for trucks could cut overall transport emissions by as much as 10%.

In addition to the wide-reaching environmental and health benefits, investments into ultra-fuel efficient trucks will result in significant cost savings and help to boost the economy, and retain Europe’s industrial competitiveness.



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