Four things for cities to consider when switching to alternative fuels

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Transportation fuel and vehicle maintenance can put a significant strain on a municipal budget. With more and more cities and towns of all sizes throughout South Carolina looking to spend less, many are turning to alternative fuels, but aren’t sure where to start. Here are some suggestions:

More than a dozen alternative fuels are in production or under development for use in alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles. US Department of Energy (DOE) recognized alternative fuels are; biodiesel (B20 and above), hydrogen, ethanol (E85), liquefied petroleum gas (propane), compressed and liquefied natural gas (CNG and LNG), and electricity. Using alternative fuels, instead of conventional gasoline or diesel, helps reduce dependence on imported oil, can lower vehicle emissions, and even lower fuel costs.

1. Do a fleet audit: Are you maximizing the value of your current vehicles?

Fleet managers should look at mileage data for each vehicle in the fleet. Fleet inventories often grow over time to include vehicles that are highly specialized, rarely used, or unsuitable for current applications. Before considering alternative fuels, first optimize your fleet size and composition to conserve fuel, reduce emissions, and save money on fuel and maintenance. DOE offers several free tools to help fleet managers quantify the environmental and economic impacts of their current fleet footprint and encourage increased efficiency.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel: What kind of vehicles are you looking to convert/replace?

Often certain alternative fuels are more useful for specific vehicle types and classes. Examples includes propane cut-a-way transit buses used by the Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority and the City of Rock Hill’s use of CNG refuse trucks. When looking at options, consider what works well for your specific vehicle class.

3. Consider infrastructure: How are you going to fuel the vehicles?

AFVs need specific stations to refuel. Some fleets choose to install infrastructure on-site, while others utilize publicly available infrastructure. Work with utilities, natural gas and propane companies, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Many times it only takes one fleet for an infrastructure provider to invest in a public station. Make sure to check out the DOE Alternative Fueling Station Locator for an interactive map of all the public, private, and planned alternative fueling stations.

4. Consider the payback / ROI: Is the cost right?

AFVs can sometimes be more expensive to purchase. However, when you factor in lower fuel costs and maintenance over the life of the vehicle, it can be cost effective. It is important to look at each fuel and vehicle in your fleet closely. Analyze your options to see how quickly potential investments in AFVs will pay for themselves.

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