The pros and cons of alternative energy

The pros and cons of alternative energy

Two experts share their insights during webinar

Adding alternative power vehicles may seem daunting for some fleets. Questions about upfitting, efficiency, training, and cost savings are inevitable. And the fear of scuttling the success of a project before it takes off may hinder fleets from going down the alternative fuel path.

Two alternative power experts have been there, done that, and are still asking questions and making decisions about what is best for the individual needs of their organization’s fleets. And they have shared what they learned – and are still learning – with the public during a free webinar on May 21.

The webinar, “Making the Right Alternative Power Decision,” was presented by Fleet Owner and ACT Expo and sponsored by Ryder. Guest speakers Ronald Gitelman, fleet management program administrator for Yale University, and Jeff Bush, national fleet purchasing manager for Nestlé Waters North America, shared their experience-based insights on choosing and deploying alternative power vehicles.

Gitelman joined Yale in 2002 as a departmental administrator. In 2009, the university started to develop a fleet management department, and in 2011, Gitelman become fleet management program administrator.

Yale University’s fleet, which comprises compressed natural gas (CNG), electric, biodiesel and hybrid vehicles, first introduced biodiesel to its transit fleet in 2005. Yale began researching alternative fuel vehicles, and in 2012, Gitelman attended a Clean Cities Conference on alternative fuels in Rhode Island and was introduced to CNG.

That year, the university purchased two CNG MV-1s and two CNG 35-passenger buses. It incorporated fleet management software to track fuel, mileage and maintenance.  A year later, Yale purchased two CNG cutaway buses and added telematics to most of the fleet.

“All this has helped us beat our goals and become a top sustainable university,” Gitelman said.

With all the alternative fuels Yale uses, Gitelman cited advantages and disadvantages of each.

Yale first began using biodiesel in transit, which Gitelman said enhanced the university’s public image. He also said there was no cost to upfit the vehicles for biodiesel.

Some problems, for Yale, associated with biodiesel include a lack of viable sites for fueling in the New Haven area, which means vehicles are fueled with wet hosing. And if a wet hosing delivery is delayed or could not be made, the university has to use regular diesel. Another issue surfaces in cold weather, which clogs filters and increases downtime. Gitelman said the university also found that there was no significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions. 

When it incorporated natural gas, Yale found that CNG was 40% cleaner than diesel and 20% cleaner than unleaded gasoline. CNG also helped lower the university’s maintenance costs and enhanced the organization’s public image.

“One of the greatest disadvantages we encountered is infrastructure,” Gitelman said. “There is only one station in the New Haven area, and it’s three miles away, which increases mileage.”

In addition, Gitelman said, there were upfitting costs associated with CNG. However, the university saw a $20,000 cost savings in 2014 with natural gas as well as a reduction of 80 metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions.

“New Haven is considered one of the dirtiest cities in the country because of its air quality,” Gitelman said, citing a Forbes report. “Yale wants to do what it can to make it better for everybody here.”

With its electric vehicles, Yale found that they helped lower operating costs, enhanced the university’s public image and reduced maintenance. Disadvantages include vehicles are three times the cost of gasoline vehicles, viability of vendors/upfitters is inconsistent, and running AC or heat can reduce the mileage range by 20 to 25%.

In 2005, the university purchased its first hybrid passenger vehicle with stop-go technology, and in 2008, it added several hybrid passenger vehicles with the same technology. Yale found that stop-go technology reduces GHG emissions in high traffic, urban environments by shutting down the engine at stops. It also increased fuel efficiency compared to other passenger vehicles in the fleet and enhanced the school’s public image. Some disadvantages include electric battery problems due to low mileage use, air conditioning and heat issues with recharge of the electric battery, and low mileages depending on frequency and type of use.

When it comes to selecting alternative power, Gitelman suggests fleets:

  • filter out sales pitches

  • find trustworthy internet information (not Wikipedia or necessarily a sales site)

  • discuss fuel options with peers and ask about their success and failures

  • tour local infrastructure sites and other users of the fuel

  • determine which vehicles would be ideal for alternative fuel/power upfits

  • obtain vehicle prices and ask for upfit costs to be separate

  • research grant possibilities

“Sustainability is more than alternative fuels,” Gitelman said. “If alternative fuel is not workable, look at other ways to improve sustainability. Be aware of the latest technology, fuels, and trends.  Fuels today may not work for you but in a few years there could be one that will work well.”

Bush, the national fleet purchasing manager for Nestlé Waters North America, said the company has a fleet of 3,800 with 48 alternative fuel/power vehicles. Alternative fuel vehicles include 34 Class 7 diesel electric hybrid (DEH) beverage delivery vehicles, five Class 5 propane autogas beverage delivery vehicles, three Class 4 DEH utility vans, three Class 4 CNG utility vans, and three Class 8 CNG tractors.  

The company has chosen propane as its alternative fuel of choice for now, but Bush said the company is not an advocate for any certain alternative fuel or power. He said forklifts, which are instrumental in lifting water from springs, played a major decision in the company’s transition to propane-based vehicles.

For Nestlé, the benefits of propane include its availability, the reduction in fuel costs and the company’s carbon footprint, low maintenance costs, no diesel aftertreatments, and its minimal impact to fleet, functionality, operation, and maintenance.

“We have to maintain our fleet as operational,” Bush said. “We have to go out every day and deliver our products to our customers.”

“Every Nestlé product worldwide – whether it’s a candy bar or bottle of water – must have absolute quality and certainty that the manufacturing and distribution is all sustainable,” Bush added.

Since incorporating propane, Bush said the company saw a 40 to 50% reduction in fuel cost, and that propane refueling stations, which can be installed within weeks, cost as little as $50,000.

Both autogas and compressed natural gas (CNG) are American-made, abundant and less expensive than gasoline, Bush said, citing information from Autogas for America. Bush said the company also uses telematics software to track fuel mileage and maintenance. That software also tracks driver behavior behind the wheel, including hard braking and quick acceleration, which the company uses to monitor fuel efficiency.

During his presentation, Bush included a quote from the company’s CEO, Tim Brown, on why sustainability is so important to Nestlé.

“Our company’s growth and evolution have been guided by the tenets of our corporate citizenship, which is exemplified by our commitment to creating shared value for the company and society. We are committed to taking responsibility for our operations and working to help create social and environmental benefits outside our facility walls.”

The entire webinar is available now on demand.

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