The world is rapidly moving towards electrification in many sectors, and the innovations in agriculture are especially exciting. Electric vehicle (EV) tractors are heralding a transformative shift in farming, a promising move to environmental and economic sustainability. With mounting interest in the cost dynamics of these EV tractors, familiarity with the intricacies of their charging costs becomes pivotal for decision-making.
Understanding EV tractors, their economic implications, and how they fit into the broader canvas of electric power economics is essential for anyone interested in AgTech.
What Are EV Tractors?
Electric vehicle tractors, also commonly called battery-powered tractors, all-electric tractors, or 100% electric tractors, are farming machinery powered by electric motors rather than traditional diesel-powered engines. Electric tractors utilize a large battery, measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), to store and dispense energy required for various agricultural tasks.
What Factors Are Fueling the Transition to EV Tractors?
The transition from diesel to EV tractors is driven by several factors:
- Environmental Concerns: With diesel-powered tractors releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs), EV tractors emerge as a cleaner and more sustainable alternative.
- Economic Efficiency: Given diesel’s track record of price volatility against the comparatively stable rate of electricity, EV tractors often provide a more predictable and potentially less expensive operational cost.
- Energy Efficiency: When energy conversion is factored in, EV tractors lower environmental impact and emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle.
- Maintenance and Servicing: Electric tractors, like electric cars, have far fewer moving parts compared to their diesel counterparts
- Fuel Storage Costs: When dealing with a diesel-powered tractor, there are ancillary costs involved in purchasing the diesel, having it delivered, storing it, and staying compliant with safety regulations pertaining to storage. With battery tractors, these concerns are ameliorated.
- Performance: Many users have reported that EV tractors offer smoother operations, with instant torque that can be particularly advantageous in certain farming scenarios.
Electric Tractors & Renewable Energy
One of the intriguing facets of EV tractors is their compatibility with alternative energy sources, such as solar power and other renewables. Historically, on-farm power generation has rarely made sense economically, since electricity powers a tiny fraction of whole farm operations. This is because for most farms, almost all farming energy is derived from diesel, which powers everything from field equipment to irrigation pumps, cleaning equipment, farm vehicles, and more. Electrifying the tractor, as Monarch has done, shifts the entire energy equation. With EV tractors like the Monarch MK-V, farms now have a reason to invest in solar and clean energy. A fleet of electric tractors enables faster payback for renewables, opens up energy storage opportunities, and promotes energy independence for farmers.
When available, farmers can take advantage of tax credits and financial incentives. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy operated by the U.S. Department of Energy maintains a comprehensive resource of all the incentive programs related to alternative fuels and advanced vehicles, organized by state.
Charging an EV tractor is relatively straightforward. The time taken to reach a full charge depends on the capacity of the tractor’s battery and the power rating of the charger. For instance, Monarch’s MK-V battery can be fully charged in about six hours with an 80 amp charger.
EV tractors encapsulate the future of sustainable and economically efficient farming. With their rising adoption and associated benefits, it's evident that the agricultural sector is poised for a long overdue shift to integrate innovative electric technologies.
How Much Does It Cost to Charge an EV Tractor?
When understanding the costs associated with EV tractors, it's essential to consider the direct expenses of charging, as well as the broader financial implications over the tractor's lifespan.
The primary expense when charging an EV tractor is the cost of electricity. This depends on the tractor's battery capacity, usually measured in kWh, and the local electricity rates. For instance, if an EV tractor has a 100 kWh battery and the local cost of electricity is $0.12 per kWh, a full charge from zero would cost $12. The other side of the cost equation is how much money a farm saves. Results from a field trial utilizing an MK-V electric tractor at a high-density apple orchard showed an annual fuel savings of $7,828.58 by running one electric tractor instead of a diesel, assuming 1000 hours of operating time over the course of the year.
In addition to offering incentives for EV vehicles and equipment, many states offer various tax credits and financial incentives for purchasing EV chargers. When available, these incentives will reduce the average cost of charging over the lifetime of the electric tractor. When combined with solar, the cost of charging your tractor becomes even less, delivering significant savings to a farm.
What Is the Average Cost of Electricity for Charging?
The cost of electricity for charging largely depends on one's location, the time of day, and the energy source.
In the United States, electricity rates can vary significantly. While Hawaii, which is geographically isolated, trends as one of the highest rates in the nation, states like Washington, due to abundant hydroelectric power, often offer rates that are more affordable. Local utilities may also offer special EV charging rates, making it more economical for EV tractor owners. California is one such state with utilities that provide special rates. Some states, like Colorado, have adopted dynamic pricing. Here, electricity suppliers may charge different rates based on the time of day or season. It's not uncommon to see higher rates during summer due to increased demand. By charging during off-peak hours, farmers can benefit from reduced rates.
Alternative energy sources, like solar power or wind power, can also influence charging costs. Using their own renewable energy sources, farmers can sometimes even reach a net-zero energy cost where they produce as much energy as they consume. In the right scenario, it’s feasible for a farm to produce more energy than it uses and be compensated for contributing energy to the grid.
What Other Factors Impact Charging Costs?
Beyond the electricity rate, other factors can impact the cost of charging an EV tractor. Just like an electric car, the health of an EV tractor’s battery can affect charging. A degraded battery may not hold a full charge, potentially increasing the frequency and cost of charging sessions. Some utilities impose demand charges, which are additional fees based on the peak amount of electricity you draw at any given time. If you're charging multiple tractors simultaneously, these fees can spike your electricity demand and increase costs.
How Do EV Tractors vs. Diesel Tractors Compare?
The debate of EV tractors versus diesel tractors continues — which one will cost you more in the long run? What does maintenance entail? Is there a learning curve? These are some of the common points of uncertainty surrounding the world of EV tractors.
Here's a detailed breakdown of how these types of tractors compare:
Some research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln points to the fact that diesel prices have been notoriously volatile. Conversely, the cost of electricity, especially with options like home charging or alternative energy sources like solar, presents a more stable and often less expensive alternative. While the upfront cost for an EV tractor might be higher than a diesel, diesel fuel costs are reduced to zero.
In the debate between diesel tractors and EV tractors, another talking point is access to reliable power to charge an EV. With renewable energy, farms can become more independent — especially with the increase of electrification in agriculture. In fact, an EV tractor like the MK-V can improve a farm’s access to power. The MK-V tractor serves as a portable power source, which can be especially valuable during harvest and wildfire season.
Emissions and Environmental Impact
Diesel engines emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other damaging pollutants. EV tractors, especially those charged from renewable sources, have a much lower carbon footprint and no toxic emissions. As more EV tractors are adopted, GHGs can be significantly reduced, helping mitigate climate change and aligning with a renewable farming ethos. Reducing diesel emissions not only helps the planet but creates a healthier work environment for tractor operators and lowers the amount of diesel exhaust particulates that accumulate on crops.
Servicing and Maintenance
Battery-powered tractors have fewer moving parts than diesel engines. This translates to less frequent servicing and maintenance — meaning tractors can spend more time in the field generating profit and less time in the shop. Older diesel tractors sometimes require expensive diesel particulate filter (DPF) replacements, which can exceed the vehicle's value. Such issues are non-existent in EV tractors.
EV tractors can directly transfer energy from the battery to the motor, whereas ICE tractors require a combustion process to occur. Research from the U.S. Department of Energy clarifies that EVs may convert over 77% of the energy from the grid to power at the wheels, whereas diesel-powered vehicles generally only convert between 11% to 30%. This direct energy transfer helps reduce energy waste, which in turn helps lower operating costs and carbon footprint.
With fewer moving parts, the likelihood of breakdowns in EV tractors is minimized. Plus, with sophisticated onboard diagnostics for electric tractors like the MK-V, farmers can preemptively address issues, ensuring seamless operations. When assessing the efficiency of EV tractors against their diesel counterparts, they tend to outperform in drivability with quicker accelerations and more responsive handling. The tractor’s full torque in an electric tractor is immediately available. Although diesels have more powerful engines, sub-100 hp electric tractors are proving to be up to the job required of them.
The Future of Farming
Farm electrification and EV tractors are the gateway to the future, giving farms access to much-needed, increased profitability, productivity, and efficiency. Monarch’s MK-V tractor takes EV tractors to a new level by combining electrification, driver-optional capabilities, and connectivity. These technologies work together giving farms better insights for data-driven decision making as well as a labor force multiplier in an industry suffering from a chronic labor shortage. Because it works with today’s common farming implements and those of the future, the MK-V serves as a bridge between conventional practices and the farms of the future.
Farmers have always prided themselves on self-reliance. However, dependency on diesel and petroleum-based agrochemicals have made modern farmers rely on external inputs more than ever. Transporting, storing, and using diesel along with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers take a toll on farm profits. As mentioned, EV Tractors give farmers access to more affordable and reliable power. Taking it one step further with an autonomous EV tractor, a farmer is no longer burdened with the diesel and labor expenses associated with mowing and can reduce or eliminate herbicides. With herbicides out of the equation, the soil can restore itself with more organic matter and eventually, the need for fertilizers may also be reduced.
What Economic Trends and Developments Could Impact the Economics of EV Tractors?
With growing healthcare costs and environmental concerns, regulatory bodies might impose stricter standards on conventional tractors, making it increasingly important for farmers to thoroughly ensure compliance. As the world pivots towards sustainability, the demand for EVs, including tractors, will likely soar. This might result in slower depreciation rates and higher resale values for EV tractors. Other economic trends and developments to consider include:
1. Potential Regulation
Today, farmers are responsible for staying compliant with a plethora of regulations, both at the state and federal levels. OSHA compliance, for instance, has strict guidelines pertaining to herbicide storage and use. For farmers hoping to obtain organic certification, regulations are twofold. Organic certifications also restrict the use of certain herbicides, meaning farmers need to find alternative, cost-efficient ways to mow and limit weeds.
2. Widespread Adoption of the Technology
Many farmers are looking for a simple, streamlined solution, and there’s a common misconception that a high-tech tractor will require high-tech engineers to understand it. Farmers are also concerned that an EV tractor won’t be powerful enough to pull an implement and be effective for farm operations, however they are discovering that electric tractors perform well.
3. Cost-Reducing Innovations in Charging and Functionality
As more farmers adopt EV tractors, the demand will drive innovation for even greater cost-saving technologies. For instance, the MK-V tractor features a dairy feed push blade model that works to push feed autonomously — allowing cows to eat more feed, thus produce more milk and generate more profits for the dairy. From fast charging to battery advancements, innovations are consistently driving down the costs of an all-electric tractor operation.
The trajectory of EV tractors is evident. With the dual advantage of economic and environmental benefits, EV tractors are redefining agriculture. Farmers with high adoption rates of new technologies are already using electric power economics to their advantage. As the sector evolves, so will the infrastructure, making EV tractors not just a viable choice but the preferred one.
“Fuel Prices and Cost of Production | Agricultural Economics.” https://agecon.unl.edu/cornhusker-economics/2015/fuel-prices-and-cost-of-production
“All Electric Vehicles.” U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml#:~:text=EVs%20have%20several%20advantages%20over,to%20power%20at%20the%20wheels.