At a Glance
The six steps to alternative-fuel implementation success are:
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.
2. Develop the plan
Create the vision for change. Project a positive image on how, why, and where you want to be. Incorporate your vision into your plan and document the intended outcome.
Collaborate with experts and perform site visits. Developing relationships and a collaborative management style will be beneficial. Speak to all parties associated in the specific area you’re interested in. Bring the OEMs into the discussion and include directors and other stakeholders. They can be resources of expert information.
Develop the project. Craft a draft proposal with all the inclusions needed for the transition. This may include engineering, mechanical, funding, utilities and fuel suppliers, and physical location for the station. Create a procurement document and install your vision perspective into the body of the requirements. Review this information with experts and even potential suppliers.
Develop a target budget. Be very conservative when developing a budget. It is far better to have ample funding for the project at the front end than to continually pursue approval for additional funding. The better preparation you do and the more information you collect, the greater the potential for budget success. The budget should include all elements of the station construction, required utility costs, and even equipment.
Develop a main resource document for reference. Creating a reference binder will save you hundreds of hours in research. Organize contacts, technical research, vendors and suppliers, utilities, engineering requirements, and related information.
Assemble opportunities for financial offsets. There are opportunities for grant money to help offset the initial and ongoing capital investment of equipment (both vehicles and fueling stations). Grant money opportunities can be researched through local air quality management districts, the Department of Energy, state associations for air resources, and utility companies. Apply early and ensure the application is accurate, truthful, concise, and includes timelines. If this is your first grant application, reach out to your contacts for assistance or use a professional grant writer.
Include milestones in incremental goals completed. Document your progress. Identifying milestones will provide for excellent integrity and continuity in your ability to achieve your ultimate goals.
Develop a request for proposal (RFP) for a design, bid, and build of fueling facilities. Develop a solid RFP or invitation to bid and send it to established companies. This can help guide the project, supply you with quality recommendations for the installation of equipment, and help define utility requirements. Ensure the procurement is concise, conducive to your goals, timely, and provides the maximum cost effectiveness in the long run.
Develop an action plan checklist to track the various steps achieved. Different from milestones, the action plan deals with the particulars of individual tasks. This will help you understand what was completed and what still needs to be closed out.
Become an advocate for the transition program. Advocate for the change, fuel being used, cost, and emission savings, and market the program transition to all stakeholders in the organization, including elected officials. Expose your staff to the new alternative fuel — they can become your greatest allies.
Maintain a database of all the companies with which you’ll do business. This is your “go-to” resource for readily available assistance should you need materials, parts, training, or services. This is different from a normal resource binder in that it should only include the information for those vendors, suppliers, and utilities utilized within the scope of the alternative fuels project. Maintain and update these points of contact.
3. Assemble the goals and objectives
Perform a goals and objectives analysis for the transition. Include tools you will need at all levels of the project.
Identify the timeframes for implementation. Include the various components necessary to achieve your milestones and know the program requirements (users, manufacturers, utilities, and fuel suppliers). Realistic time frames are paramount to project success. Be flexible. Do not skip vital steps in the process. Doing so may delay the transition or even require additional funding to correct mistakes.
Develop timelines for funding and for receipt of funds. With grant money, review the dates of receipts and invoices. Most grants work on a reimbursement basis, which means your agency will not receive the actual grant monies until after funds have been budgeted and expended. Explain this to vendors, stakeholders, the city manager, etc.
It is desirable to use capital, or discretionary funding, to initially pay for the project. Local budgeted money for operations can also be used, providing it was budgeted at the beginning of the fiscal year. If building a fueling station, it might be more economical to “pay as you go” during construction, when each project section is completed.
It’s always best to perform the entire project on time. Discuss financial strategies at the front end of your transition to avoid any surprises.
Communicate with regulatory agencies. Embrace the air quality regulations and reach out to local and state regulatory agencies. These entities will respect you for being proactive and not reactionary.
Maintain a reference list of political resources. Include elected officials, stakeholders, directors, etc. This is separate from the reference list for vendors and suppliers. When you achieve your milestones, reach out to this contact list and articulate your achievements. Many political leaders enjoy receiving positive news, especially if it pertains to clean air and alternative fuels.
4. Work with the utilities
Schedule meetings with the utilities that will supply the power for the alternative fuel, if applicable. Develop a “Utilities Service Planning” (USP) agenda and have a clear understanding of the utility factors and requirements for a successful project. The utilities need to understand the project and your plans. Don’t be overly concerned at first if you receive negative information; oftentimes, this is normal until you work through the specifics with several experts.
Review the potential site for the fueling station. Ensure you have enough maneuverability, station footprint spacing, and a close proximity to the necessary hard path to the utilities. Perform a site analysis with the fire and code departments as well, and include the proposed station provider(s) and engineering team for good applicability of the location. Document all this information.
Develop a cost strategy for payback. Review cost-neutral solutions. If you have a solid project budget, conduct an evaluation to review a payback analysis model. Several factors should go into this equation, such as total station costs (using operational funds), total portion of use with capital funds (one-time funding), projected cost of the fuel, number of vehicles for initial use, and over the lifecycle of the station. Once you can project a payback analysis to your superiors and elected officials, you will be in a great position to understand your costs.
Explore a cost-neutral solution. Several high-quality energy companies offer a turn-key solution, where the company will design, construct, own, and operate a fueling station. Using this scenario, be mindful of the total per-gallon (or gasoline gallon equivalent) fuel cost. Use a formal contract to calculate fuel costs and indicate the duration of the program. Be sure to include all preventive maintenance and overhaul and ensure minimum operation downtime, such as a 12-hour response time requirement. If budgets are difficult, or non-existent, this is a great opportunity to explore.
Review the total fueling station footprint, especially for large stations. Understand the safety distances for sensitive equipment, detection sensors (if required), and vehicle circulation from dispensers. For example, if there are site restrictions, one option is to specify only curb-side fueling to avoid difficult site traffic and compromising safety conditions. Plan for future growth when constructing the facility.
5. Identify influencers
Meet with politicians and discuss objectives. Engage elected officials early on in the process (after your plans are completed) and discuss the highlights, benefits, and the great exposure moving to alternative energy will create for your agency. City councils and other political leaders will be proud to support the endeavor. Make sure political leaders see your vision and receive the political benefits. Remember that performance must be accountable.
Provide political, cost, and environmental benefits. Provide every political leader with the anticipated year-over-year cost savings. Use a conservative approach to ensure more realistic goal achievement. Include the estimated environmental impacts and benefits. Inform political leaders about the reduced use of traditional fossil fuels, which equates to a real cost savings. Quantify the savings and emissions reductions year over year, and include all other related efforts, such as an aggressive recycling program.
Provide any statutory requirements as an impetus. Some primary reasons for moving away from traditional fuels are federal, state, county, or city mandates. Many air quality management districts have already or will soon adopt aggressive policies to reduce the carbon footprints. Embrace these rules and be proactive about the inevitability of change.
Craft an internal marketing plan. Post this on the agency intranet, city or agency websites, and also in written format for dissemination. Sell your plan, market the positive results, and embody the element of dynamic change. There will be the “naysayers”; rise above these and stay the course. Schedule a “grand opening” ceremony with stakeholders, elected officials, and the local media.
Partner with the experts. Be an active listener and understand the advice of experts. Take that proverbial step back to review your goals, refresh your ability to openly accept new information, and be poised to process the material. There are brilliant people around us. Our job is to seek them out and emulate their positive experiences.
6. Develop synergies
Collaborate with stakeholders. Ask for the expertise of and input from all primary stakeholders, equipment manufacturers, employees, equipment operators, customer departments, and management. Become the duty expert, have all your facts assembled, and be ready to discuss and provide comprehensive and informative reports. Discuss the steps you underwent to come to your decision. Don’t be afraid to communicate potential hurdles and challenges.
Develop relationships with staff, superiors, and customers. Solicit the support of your staff and hold question-and-answer meetings as you assemble the plan. Reach out to all employees within the agency as well. Do this frequently. Hold meetings with key customers and superiors. Advise them of the technology, its safety, and the seamless transition to them. Reaffirm your plan of action and provide a concise summary copy to keep them informed. Hold vehicle demonstrations to allay customer concerns.
Schedule regular informational meetings to keep all parties informed of the transition progress. Articulate positive results and challenges and communicate the progress of the transition.
Prior to delivery of vehicles, conduct advanced technical training for staff. This training should happen several times over the course of the next year and beyond. Everyone on staff should understand how the fueling station operates and how to perform PM and repairs to the equipment. Enforce safety, and amend the fleet safety policy to include the new technologies.
Build teams, support networks, and business units. A network of peers can act as a sounding board to discuss problems and solutions. Creating separate business units helps maintain accountability and provides a clear set of solid parameters.
Become the expert. Becoming the duty expert means you have taken a serious vested interest in all facets of your synergies and the technologies you employed. You will be called upon to respond to questions, meet with architects and engineers, and become a vital, integral component of the operation and the industry at large.
Embrace the technology to which you have transitioned. Your posture should always be strong and steady regarding the choices you made. You will be called by fuel suppliers, other cities, vehicle manufacturers, private companies, and interested parties. Competing alternate energy companies will approach you, but you have decided on the “best overall solution” for your entity. If you did your research properly, looked at the big picture, and used a broad stroke, you will know you made the correct decisions.
Stay educated. Attend seminars that will broaden your perspective on alternative fuels. There are also resources and educational associations that will keep you abreast of changing technologies. The educational information will allow you to maintain a competitive edge and provide you with a great support network.
An Expanding CNG Fleet
The City of Culver City, Calif., analyzed various fuels before deciding to move forward with compressed natural gas (CNG). The City began its alternative-fuel program in 1997 with 20 heavy-duty CNG transit buses. Now, 85% of the City’s heavy- and medium-duty trucks and 20% of its light-duty vehicles run on CNG.
This article is adapted from a report by Paul Condran, titled “Developing Synergies to Transition Away From Traditional Fuels into Alternative Fuels.” Download the full report here.
About the Author:
Paul Condran is the equipment services manager at the City of Culver City, Calif. Condran serves as vice president of the Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association (MEMA).