This article was published on March 8, 2022

Here’s how electric trucks can use mountains to create green energy

Researchers found a new way to generate hydroelectric power


Here’s how electric trucks can use mountains to create green energy
Ioanna Lykiardopoulou
Story by

Ioanna Lykiardopoulou

Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives. Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives.

As the world is moving towards renewable energy sources, one promising avenue is hydropower. Simply put, this is all about using falling or fast-running water to produce electricity.

Despite its capability, innovation in hydropower technology has been relatively slow in the last century, and the potential of hydropower in multiple suitable regions remains untapped. 

Fortunately for the planet, Julian Hunt, researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and an international team of scientists have developed a technology that can harness hydropower from steep mountain regions, where the potential for generating electricity from rivers is very high. 

What’s been the difficulty so far?

Hi there, EV nerd!

Subscribe now for a weekly recap of our favorite mobility stories

Firstly, the area surrounding small water streams is very limited. This means that the typical components of a hydroelectric plant (dams, tunnels, reservoirs, turbine generation systems) can’t really be installed. 

Secondly, river flow is highly susceptible to climate change, which implies that a conventional facility couldn’t guarantee consistent power generation, nor a return of investment. 

What’s the research’s solution?

Hunt and his team developed a technology called Electric Truck Hydropower (ETH). As the name suggests, it’s electric trucks themselves that undertake the entire process of transforming water power into electricity.

Here’s how it works: 

  • A discharge site is installed at the base of the mountain, while a charge site is installed at its upper part. 
  • Trucks loaded with empty containers and nearly discharged batteries ascend towards the charge site, where they fill the containers with water. 
  • Once filled up, the trucks descend the mountain applying their regenerative braking system, which turns the water weight into electricity and charges the trucks’ battery. 
  • At the discharge site, the containers are unloaded and the water is released back to the river. This reduces the negative impact on river flow and aquatic life. 
  • The charged battery is then replaced with a nearly discharged one, and the process starts anew. 
electric trucks use hydro energy to generate electricity
The schematic of the process. Image: Hunt et al.

What are the advantages?

Notably, the trucks not only power themselves up, but also feed the generated energy back to the grid.  

That’s because the discharge site can be connected to a national node, allowing the charged battery packs to supply people and places around the country. Alternatively, the batteries can also operate as a grid energy storage solution. 

Another benefit is the cost. Price estimates by the researchers show that the levelized cost of electric truck hydropower is $30-100 per MWh, which is considerably cheaper than conventional hydropower that clocks in at $50-200 per MWh.

As for its environmental impact, electric truck hydropower is believed to be significantly lower than that of its conventional cousin.

“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.”

Plus, the flexibility of the technology — the trucks are portable after all — relieves the pressure of using water from the same source. And even during periods with low river flow, the system doesn’t go to waste, as the trucks can be used for the transportation of cargo.

Little makes me happier than researchers finding elegant solutions to creating more green energy. Long live, electric truck hydropower! A technology that sounds as cool as it is.

If you’d like to learn more about the research, you can find it here.

Get the Shift newsletter

Get the most important mobility news in your inbox each week.