“We are getting closer and closer to the day when cars are no longer the ‘alternatives’ … oil will be the alternative.” – Former Secretary of the California EPA Terry Tamminen
“Green Fleet” development and management were focal points of the 2013 AltCar Expo Fleet Conference held on September 20 in Santa Monica, CA.Public sector Fleet Managers, along with representatives of state and federal offices, including the DOE Clean Cities Coalition, EPA, and NHTSA, non-profits like CalStart, NAFA and MEMA, and business sector stakeholders such as Ford Motors and NRG, participated in panel discussions about issues that both support and challenge green fleet objectives at the 2013 AltCar Expo.
On the plus side, great strides have been made in California over the past two decades in air pollution reduction via cleaner cars. Better yet, electric vehicles (EV) sales are growing nationally at a rate three times faster than hybrid cars.
However, fueling infrastructure, consumer confidence in vehicle safety, and cost-effective fleet logistics remain obstacles that were tackled in force at the conference.
Change is Hard – So Why Bother with Green Fleets?
“Climate change is the single greatest national security threat,” declared California State Senator Ted Liu.
That explained, new Federal emissions standards are driving businesses and governments to convert as many vehicles as soon as possible to green fleet status.
Randall Wilson, Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary Office of California Governor Jerry Brown, discussed Brown’s Zero Emissions executive order, which sets a goal of “1.5 million zero emissions vehicles on California roads by 2025.”
Vehicles that fall into the zero emissions category include plug-in electric cars, trucks and vans (PEVs), clean-diesel, bio-diesel, ethanol and natural gas (CNG & LNG) cars, trucks, vans, busses, and trains, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).
Other panelists noted that sooner rather than later is the time to invest in green vehicles for fleet replacement, so that the Federal and State emissions goals can be met in a timely fashion.
For more info, visit DriveClean.ca.gov, a website for everyone posted by the state to assist auto shoppers looking to buy green vehicles.
Alternative Fuel and EV Charging Infrastructure
Patricia Qwan of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) emphasized that, to genuinely reduce air pollution, infrastructure planning should be focused on providing people with motivation to drive zero emissions vehicles during peak commuting hours.
However, one of the greatest challenges confronting green fleets and private drivers remains fueling station availability. Problems include the rarity of natural gas and hydrogen fueling pumps and the perpetual “il-logistics” of public EV charging locations.
Jon Coleman, PhD, Fleet Sustainability and Technology Manager with Ford Motors, noted that the “vehicles are there, but the infrastructure is still going through a strange, early adoption period.” Coleman cited instances where EV chargers have been installed in the least expensive rather than the most convenient locations for drivers.
The result is, simply put, that EV drivers can’t find the chargers.Another problem is “EV gridlock,” a novel scenario where multiple EV drivers wait for a single charging station to open up in a parking space.
Coleman suggested applying monetary incentives, such as tacking on parking fees after the EV charging is complete, to motivate drivers to move aside for their EV compadres.
Terry O’Day, California Market Director of NRG eVgo charging stations spoke about NRG’s plan to create a comprehensive network of public and private charging locations – called Freedom Stations – in areas that are both convenient and highly trafficked, such as grocery store parking lots and apartment complexes.
Safety is the Key to Vehicle Success
Stating that when it comes to “consumer acceptance” of ‘green’ vehicles, “the baseline is safety,” David Friedman, Deputy Administrator of the NHTSA, talked at length about green vehicle milestones in safety.
NHTSA Five Star Safety Ratings have been awarded to electric powered cars like the Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.
Scientific advancements in fuel safety – particularly as relates to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and lithium battery powered vehicles – as well as measures to offset the “quiet” factor for electric cars in terms of pedestrian safety – additionally contribute to consumer confidence in non-gasoline transportation.
Education and training of first responders about dangers and procedures unique to electric and hydrogen vehicles during accidents is also of critical importance, according to Friedman (the ever-present volatility of gasoline not-withstanding).
Sensible Fleet Deployment Makes Green Vehicles More Affordable
Replacing fleets is a costly proposition under any circumstance, but certain “green” vehicles, most particularly EVs, hybrids and FCVs, tend to be more expensive than gasoline vehicles. Tax rebates and incentives help offset some of the high pricing, but not all.
Richard Battersby, Director of Fleet Services at UC Davis, and Bill Van Amburg, Senior VP of CALSTART, both spoke of using the right vehicles for the right jobs.
Battery powered EVs and hybrids, for example, which shut down while idling and use energy generated by brakes to recharge batteries, are more suited to short, urban trips. EVs and hybrids thus operate more cost effectively in urban stop and start traffic than on the highway.
On the flip side, vehicles powered by natural gas or bio-fuels are better suited to distance driving, when fuel economy is a premium goal, and for rough terrain and heavy load situations.
Van Amburg additionally spoke of how strategic fleet management tactics can help businesses and agencies recoup green fleet investments faster. The importance of utilizing telematics in fleet management, for example, is key to efficient routing and navigation, and can save fleets thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
Additionally, monitoring fuel economy, idle times and vehicle maintenance schedules can create even deeper levels of fuel economy with both traditional AND green fleets.
AltCar Expo, now celebrating eight years, is a ground breaking event hosted in Santa Monica, CA, one of the most forward-thinking communities in the US in the realm of alternative fuel vehicles and non-traditional transportation. In addition to exhibits, the Expo is notable for offering consumers the opportunity to test drive electric, hybrid and other green vehicles throughout both days of the event. To find out more, please visit: AltCarExpo.com/.
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