Alternative energy has been a hot topic for the past several years, and it won’t be going away any time soon. Electric energy has been one of the focuses in conversation, and with more and more electric buses and trucks entering the market, fleets must start planning for the future of electrification—and it’s not too far off.
Many state governments have been creating requirements to bolster the transition to alternative fuel vehicle fleets by either two methods—Standard Compliance and Alternative Compliance. Standard Compliance is a method that requires covered fleets to acquire a percentage of alternative fuel vehicles each year based on the number of acquired light-duty vehicles. Alternative Compliance allows covered fleets to be waived from Standard Compliance and find measures to implement practices that reduce the use of petroleum in operations. According to the United States Department of Energy, most established fleets use Standard Compliance, while newer fleets and biodiesel fleets are more suited with using Alternative Compliance (Compliance, 2020).
While these two compliance methods are in place as the bare minimum, not all states’ fleets are required to comply with the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) but some are voluntarily creating standards that are frequently more rigorous than the EPAct and alternative fuel use requirements (State, 2014). For example, the state of Wyoming is not subject to the EPAct requirements, law, which expired in June 30, 2017 required that at least 50% of vehicle acquisitions for all state agencies, colleges, and universities are to be dedicated or bi-fuel CNG vehicles (ibid). Alabama created a state fleet manager in 2013, who is responsible for holding all state departments accountable to Alabama’s Green Fleets Policy (ibid). This Policy requires certain percentage increases per fiscal year on vehicles’ average fleet fuel economy.
But what is in it for fleets today?
Even if these parameters are clearly defined, where are the companies going to find the money and incentive to start switching to alternative energies for future compliance? According to the US Department of Energy, there are 28 incentives, 20 laws and regulations, and 12 programs related to alternative fuels and vehicles, advanced technologies, or air quality. For example, the Alternative Fuel Excise Tax Credit is available in the amount of $0.50 per gallon for selected alternative fuels to operate a motor vehicle and is available until December 31, 2020. The more common tax exemption that I have come across is the Alternative Fuel Tax Exemption, where alternative fuels can be exempt from federal fuel taxes if used in a manner that is deemed nontaxable by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
And the challenges?
There is some concern of how the planned increase in power demand will affect distribution planning and infrastructure, but ambitious plans are already working to address that concern in their own ways. The West Coast Clean Transit Corridor is one such plan that outlines the establishment of 27 charging sites along the Interstate 5 (California, Oregon, and Washington) in 50-mile intervals by 2025 to serve mainly medium-duty trucks.
The Corridor is a collaboration among nine electric utilities and two dozen municipal utilities represented by two agencies, like San Diego Gas & Electric, Puget Sound Energy, and Pacific Power, among others.
Not only does the size of the fleet matter, but the size of the vehicle itself plays a huge role in furthering widespread electrification. According to Jean-Baptiste Gallo’s study called “Electric Truck & Bus Grid Integration, Opportunities, Challenges & Recommendations”, larger electric vehicles like truck and bus fleets also have challenges that conventionally fueled vehicles do not have. One such challenge is timing inflexibilities and Time-Of-Use (TOU) pricing, where energy is more expensive when demand for it is higher, like peak times (Gallo, 2016). While this has effectively pushed light-duty electric vehicles to charge in off-peak time, truck and bus fleets cannot share that same flexibility. This inflexibility makes it harder to cope with “charging on route, during breaks, between two shifts, or after an early shift” (ibid, page 4).
Refutation exists in with real-time pricing with technical solutions like smart charging, energy storage, and distributed generation. Each of these solutions have their own costs and could prevent further electrification for trucks and buses.
How are people coping now?
Some people are coping well with the future in alternative energy by staying ahead of the curve. In Chris Brown’s “How a Fleet Operator Builds an Electric Truck” article, CEO and Co-Founder of Xos Trucks Dakota Semler started out in the family business Rockhard Transportation and delt with fuel management. Because of the company shut down for not meeting the diesel emissions and compliance standards in 2010, Semler started to investigate into alternative technologies. Semler and the company realized that it would become increasingly difficult to meet compliance and decided to be fully invested in batter electric vehicles.
While it will be later down the line that long hauls will see battery technology and charging infrastructure, Xos Trucks saw opportunity in last-mile delivers such as eCommerce and parcel package deliveries. This step is a breakthrough in and of itself due to our rapidly increasing reliance on eCommerce, and since we have a general consensus that technological capabilities expand exponentially, this step is promising.
With all of this, what do I really think about the future?
While I do think that the future of alternative energy is bright and necessary for global and environmental sustainability, I agree with Chris— total independence from petroleum is highly unlikely because of its presence in other products that help keep fleets running, like lubricants, greases, antifreeze, and more.
We have been moving away from the use of fossil fuels in general since 1957, as coal is another fossil fuel. The declining use of coal has been replaced by nuclear power and an increase in natural gas and renewable energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, while petroleum’s share of production has decreased when taking into consideration the other types of energy that we can now harness, petroleum is still producing the majority of today’s energy consumption in the U.S. to about 37% in 2019, with natural gas following at 32%.
My safe bet is drastic reduction of reliance on petroleum within our lifetime, but total independence would be a sight to see for future generations.
Brown, Chris. “How a Fleet Operator Builds an Electric Truck.” Fleet Forward, 24 Dec. 2019, www.fleetforward.com/347423/how-a-fleet-operator-builds-an-electric-
truck. Accessed 16 October 2020.
“Compliance Methods.” State & Alternative Fuel Provider Fleets: Compliance Methods, United States Department of Energy, epact.energy.gov/compliance. Accessed 15
Gallo, Jean-Baptiste. “Electric Truck & Bus Grid Integration, Opportunities, Challenges & Recommendations.” World Electric Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2016, pp. 45-56.
Accessed 16 October 2020.
Hirsch, Jerry. “Electric Truck Integration Poses Challenges for Fleets, Study Shows.” Transport Topics, 11 May 2020, www.ttnews.com/articles/electric-truck-integration-
poses-challenges-fleets-study-shows. Accessed 16 October 2020.
Nikolewski, Rob. “A Plan to Install Electric Truck Charging Stations up and down the West Coast.” San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 June 2020,
i5#:~:text=Called%20the%20West%20Coast%20Transit,for%20big%20rigs%20by%202030. Accessed 15 October 2020.
“State Requirements Boost the Transition to Alternative Fuel Vehicle Fleets.” Alternative Fuels Data Center: State Requirements Boost the Transition to Alternative Fuel
Vehicle Fleets, United States Department of Energy, 1 Dec. 2014, afdc.energy.gov/bulletins/technology_bulletin_2014_12_01.html. Accessed 15 October 2020.
“The United States Was Energy Independent in 2019 for the First Time Since 1957.” IER, 11 May 2020, https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/fossil-fuels/gas-and-
0energy%20production%20increased,consumed%20100.2%20quads%20last%20year. Accessed 3 November 2020.