Where Is the Green Fleet?
Factors like lifetime maintenance costs and the possibility of fuel price fluctuations during the deployed life of the vehicle can mitigate purchase price differences. In some instances, the vehicle’s life cycle can be extended due to different maintenance requirements and effects of using cleaner fuels on the life of the powerplant. In general, being green or sustainable means significant environmental effects have been reduced and more work is being accomplished with fewer resources.
To be clear, there’s no single solution for fleets contemplating a green transition. Before going this route, it is important to do your homework, get a full understanding of what is involved and consider the implications for your operations.
Defining Green Fleets
It is important to start with a top-down look at shop operations and find viable ways to embrace green practices. Suggestions include using re-refined/recycled lubricants and non-toxic cleaning compounds. These are just a few examples demonstrating the many activities that can further sustainable and green efforts, besides converting vehicles.
Green Conventional Trucks
When the work gets done while the powerplant is not running (when using a stored energy solution like electric or hydraulic PTO operation, for example), vehicle emissions, operation costs and maintenance requirements are significantly reduced.
Vehicle idling is a similar concept – except it includes a running engine and fuel consumption. Mitigating unnecessary idling yields instant payback at little or no cost.
Powertrain optimization (matching components correctly) can have a huge influence on overall fuel economy. A properly designed powertrain guarantees the truck engine will operate within its peak efficiency band in most operational environments. Optimizing powertrains for ultimate fuel economy is not difficult but will require a little more thought and planning by the fleet specification team (internal and external resources).
Many truck dealers and suppliers have software that matches engines, transmissions and final drive gear ratios to achieve maximum fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance requirements. Aerodynamics, reduced rolling resistance tires, weight reduction and driver behavior modification are other areas of opportunity. Another significant option involves finding ways to decrease the operating weight of the vehicle, ultimately reducing energy required during a truck’s life cycle.
Adopting Alternative Fuels
As markets cooled off and fuel prices stabilized a year later, the alternative fuels buzz followed suit. This pattern has become cyclical. When prices rise, enthusiasm for alternative fuel and advanced technology increases. As prices fall, interest and action tend to fall by the wayside.
Many fleets that have not yet adopted an alternative fuels position take a wait-and-see approach. With low conventional fuel prices, they are having a hard time justifying the financial commitment to enter the alternative fuels market; they are not seeing the ROI.
Looking at historical trends, it is worth asking whether or not it is affordable to look into alternative fuels and advanced technologies. Although current conventional fuel prices are low, standing on the sidelines and waiting for a market shift may prove costly as vehicle fleets are currently averaging 9 years of service life. Barring any unforeseen major conflicts or disruption in the oil supply, indicators suggest a few more years of low fuel prices.
After reaching what was considered an all-time high in 2007, EIA data indicates peak fuel consumption in the U.S. is now climbing beyond the 2007 level. Ultimately, this will just put upward pressure on fuel prices; fuel prices will rise, the global economy will expand, and all commodity prices will increase (including oil).
Recognizing these opportunities now and installing a well-crafted plan to implement correct technology for specific applications can put many fleets well ahead of the curve. Knowing the drive cycle can help identify the right technology for certain applications. Understanding duty cycle will determine if a proposed alternative is doable from operational and economic standpoints.
A drive cycle refers to how vehicles are used and is often plotted graphically as a series of data points representing vehicle speed versus time. It can include:
Duty cycle gauges how much or how often a vehicle is utilized. This metric assesses:
Once you grasp these dynamics, you can identify the alternative fuel and/or advanced technology that best aligns with your organizational goals.
Other factors to consider in the decision-making process include required capital investment, desired return on investment, vehicle and technology availability, and fuel access in a given geographic area.
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