Cambridge, Massachusetts – Electric-powered delivery trucks can cost almost three times as much as regular diesel-powered trucks, but could “pay for themselves” in a surprisingly short period of time, according to a new report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The study by MIT’s Center for Transport and Logistics found that electric vehicles can cost 9 to 12 per cent less to operate than trucks with diesel engines, when used to make deliveries on an everyday basis in large cities.

“There has to be a good business case if there is going to be more adoption of electric vehicles,” said Jarrod Goentzel, co-author of the study. “We think it’s already a viable economic model, and as battery costs continue to drop, the case will only get better.”

The study used data collected by office supplier Staples, along with that from ISO New England, the non-profit firm that runs New England’s electric power grid. The researchers modelled the costs for a fleet of 250 delivery trucks using purely electric engines, hybrid gasoline-electric engines, and conventional diesel engines. The models included 70 miles (112 km) per day for 253 work days per year, with diesel priced at US$4 per gallon. Trucks with internal combustion engines averaged 10.14 miles per gallon, while hybrid trucks averaged 11.56 mpg, and electric-only trucks averaged 0.8 kilowatt-hours per mile.

The researchers also looked at what happened if the trucks were part of a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system in which their batteries could be plugged into the electrical grid for 12 hours overnight, with truck owners paid by the utility firms for the power service provided. V2G systems are currently being tested by several utility companies. The MIT team found that businesses could earn roughly $900 to $1,400 per truck per year in V2G revenues in current energy markets, which would reduce the vehicle operating costs by 7 to 11 per cent. The electric trucks also cost less in maintenance.

The operational cost per mile would drop from 75 cents per mile to 68 cents if V2G-enabled trucks were substituted for regular diesel trucks in urban fleets.

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