Green Fleet

6 Steps to Transitioning to Alternative Fuels

November 2013, Government Fleet - Feature

by Paul Condran

At a Glance

The six steps to alternative-fuel implementation success are:

  • Fact-finding
  • Developing the plans
  • Assembling goals and objectives
  • Working with utilities providers
  • Identifying influencers
  • Developing synergies.

An effective transition away from traditional fossil fuels to alternative fuels requires a dynamic, proactive, and timed approach. This article will discuss how to develop and use a transition plan for a future goal of “greening” the fleet in six steps.

The City of Culver City, Calif., decided to transition to compressed natural gas (CNG) as its main alternative fuel, and the contents here reflect lessons learned from this transition, including construction of a CNG fueling station. However, this information can be applied to almost any type of transition, from legacy and proven technologies to a new alternative approach. A well-thought-out and planned methodology to change is essential for encouraging and solidifying a high rate of success.

1. Start with a fact-finding mission

Review all the various fuel technologies available. This review should be done with a broad overview of available sources and viable technologies. Consider whether it is commercially available, relatively inexpensive, domestically produced (if possible), unaffected by geopolitical concerns, has available grant funding, and there is long-term availability.

Ensure it’s a proven technology and is the best fuel for the long-term fleet operation. Ensure the widespread availability of the fuel for today and into the future. Avoid fuels that are considered “boutique” and do not have widespread commercial use, and be cautious to not become the first operation to use the potential technology. While pioneering technology is good, do it in conjunction with other established ­alternative-fuel programs.

Reach out to experienced fleets already using the fuel and technology. Ask for their advice and viewpoints and inspect their operations.

Perform a cost-benefit analysis. Start with a graph of only the fuel costs of all the fuels under consideration. The initial capital investment will be sizable, but it should be considered a one-time expense. If you’re building a costly fueling station such as that for CNG, this cost can be amortized or depreciated into the price of the fuel. Ongoing maintenance costs of the station, utility costs, specialized training for staff, hiring of a facility engineer (as an example), and preventive maintenance schedules should all be factored into the equation.

Perform a manufacturing analysis on current and future equipment technologies. Meet with OEM representatives and ascertain the OEMs’ global perspective on current and forward-developing technologies. With new technologies, manufacturers may willing to develop the technology with you.

Calculate costs and initial emissions data beforehand to realize the greatest overall economic benefit. Base it on the fuel, engine, and after-treatment (with some technologies) you intend to implement. It is essential to have and maintain this information. When the opportunity presents itself, share it with political leaders and all stakeholders. Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction information is also important, as fleets in specific regions must ensure they meet clean air standards and related goals. Keep in mind that some grants require this information.

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