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June 01, 2011

Can Fleets Help Transition the Country to Cleaner, Oil-Free Future?


While many consumers are considering a switch to electric vehicles, public and private fleet operators are also looking at the potential environmental and cost-saving benefits of going electric. In fact, the federal government, the largest fleet operator in the United States with about 600,000 vehicles, is working to reduce oil consumption through key Obama administration efforts. And one way to do that will be through the purchase and operation of electric and other alternative fuel vehicles. 

Last week, the Obama administration sent a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, announcing that 100 percent of new light weight vehicles purchased by federal agencies need to be alternative fueled vehicles (meaning hybrid, electric, compressed gas, or biofuel) by December 31st, 2015. US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said of the announcement, "Diversifying our transportation fleet with hybrids, electric vehicles, and other alternative fuel vehicles is a critical element in President Obama's long-term plan to break our dependence on foreign oil and invest in America’s growing clean energy economy … and achieve President Obama’s goal of reducing US oil imports by one-third in a little more than a decade."

The same day, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced the purchase of 116 electric vehicles (EVs) to be distributed to 20 federal agencies. These initial EVs will be Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, and Think Citys and will be deployed in Washington, DC, Detroit, MI, Los Angeles, CA, San Diego, CA, and San Francisco, CA. Martha Johnson, the administrator of the GSA, said of the new EVs, "It furthers the administration's goal of putting 1 million advanced vehicles on the road by 2015, and it represents a significant targeted investment in the next generation of automotive technology." 

In April the President announced the formation of the National Clean Fleets Partnership, a public-private partnership that assists large companies in reducing their dependence on petroleum. Through this program, the US Department of Energy will help companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo, FedEx, AT&T, UPS, and Verizon reduce fuel use, and replace conventional gasoline vehicles with alternative fuel vehicles in their fleets.

Hertz, one of the largest rental car companies in the world, is beginning to introduce EVs into its rental and car-sharing fleets.  Last week, Hertz announced that members of the public spending time in Washington, DC are now able rent an EV through www.connectbyhertz.com.  Hertz is in the process of expanding EV availability in other cities as well.

EV plug in2
Last November, the Electrification Coalition released a report that outlines the benefits of fleet electrification. According to the report, the two major hurdles to widespread deployment of EVs are the initial cost of the vehicle and the lack of charging infrastructure; electrification of fleets addresses both of these barriers. The large-scale investment in EVs can help lower the cost of the battery throughout the market and provide major reduction in fueling and maintenance costs for the individual companies.  Fleet electrification will also likely lead to an increase in public EV charging stations. Additionally, the increased exposure to EVs can instill confidence in consumers about the reliability of EVs.

In addition to lower fueling and maintenance costs of EVs, EV batteries can be a source of revenue, particularly to fleet operators. Large fleets parked in the same location can be a valuable resource for the electric power system operators using vehicle-to-grid technology (V2G), currently being developed. Dr. Jarrod Goentzel, Research Director for the MIT Renewable Energy Delivery project, shared, "Our recent research shows that EV and PHEV fleets offer lower operating expenses for daily routes averaging 70 miles. In addition, fleet managers can expect to offset 5-11 percent of the total cost of vehicle ownership with V2G revenue from frequency regulation services alone."

Through the Sierra Club's Go Electric campaign, we are working to make clear that EVs need to enjoy rapid deployment through the public and private sectors. Fleet electrification is one important way to do that. We hope that the 116 vehicles purchased by the federal government are more than symbolic.   Indeed, to get to 1 million electric vehicles by 2015 (and then way beyond that number for the kind of emissions and oil savings reductions that we need), we will require many more than the tens of thousands of EVs that Nissan and GM are selling this year plus the 116 from the federal government.

But we have to start somewhere, and announcements and programs from the Obama administration and from the private fleet operators that are committing to EVs can be a model for the rest of us.

-- Kathleen Rooney, Sierra Club's Go Electric Campaign


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