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Electric trucks

Electric Truck Hydropower: Generated on Mountainous Terrain

March 9, 2022
An innovative renewable energy source can provide energy storage services to the grid.

Yes, vehicles can run on water.

For the most part, however, research on hydro-powered energy systems have been hit-and-miss and have presented complications in converting potential energy in water to electric energy.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) researchers recently published a paper in the Energy Journal, in which they describe an innovative hydropower technology. Their solution, based on electric trucks, is touted as a flexible and clean solution for electricity generation in mountainous regions.

Conventional methods rely on two connected reservoirs with different water levels where a turbine generation system converts potential energy of the water into electricity, the researchers explained. This stands in contrast to steep mountain regions, where the catchment area is high and where the potential for generating electricity from a small stream of water is elevated. Hydropower potential in mountainous regions remains untapped because it requires storage reservoirs, which have environmental and social impacts, noted the authors.

Their solution, known as Electric Truck Hydropower, features electric trucks transporting water on existing road infrastructure that crosses mountain ranges. The electric trucks transport load containers of water at the top of the mountain and transport the water down the mountain. The trucks used degenerative braking (controlling the descending speed of the truck) to charge the battery in the truck. The water is returned to the river at a discharge site at the base of the mountain.

The energy generated could be sold to the grid, or used by the truck itself to transport other goods, the researchers suggested.

“The ideal system configuration is in mountainous regions with steep roads, where the same electric trucks can be used to generate hydroelectric power from different locations,” said IIASA researcher Julian Hunt. “This increases the chances that water will be available.”

The proposed technology is an innovative, clean source of electricity that is competitive with solar, wind and conventional hydropower, said the researchers. They estimated that the levelized cost of Electric Truck Hydropower is U.S. $30-100 per MWh, which is considerably cheaper than conventional hydropower at $50-200 per MWh.

In addition, the said, the environmental impacts of the proposed solution would be significantly smaller relative to conventional hydropower.

“This technology does not require dams, reservoirs or tunnels, and it does not disrupt the natural flow of the river and fish passage,” Hunt explained. “The system requires only roads, which already exist; charging and discharging stations similar to small car parks; a battery facility connected to the grid; and the trucks.”

Considered at a global scale, the research team estimated that Electric Truck Hydropower could generate 1.2 PWh electricity per year. This is equivalent to about 4% of global energy consumption in 2019, noted the researchers.

There is untapped potential for hydropower on steep mountain ranges, they noted, with the Himalayas and the Andes representing the highest potential.

According to Hunt, the solution can provide an electricity generation alternative. “For example, if a country is in an energy crisis, it can buy several electric trucks to generate hydropower,” he said. “Once the crisis is over, the trucks can be used to transport cargo.”

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