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Getting Smart About Mobility


By Bruce Winchester, Executive Director, Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance
 

Getting smart about how we get around means getting smart about where we invest in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with vehicles.

The reality for Canadians is that using a car for daily trips and trucking freight is an essential component of our everyday lives – and a direct contributor to our economic well-being.  At the same time, vehicles account for 30 percent of Canada’s energy use and nearly 24 percent of our GHG emissions.

What most of us are not aware of is that while cars (light-duty passenger vehicles) are the dominant form of vehicle on the road - 23 million in Canada - they are responsible for less than half of the total GHG emissions for vehicles. In sharp contrast, trucks (heavy duty or work vehicles) produce the majority of vehicle GHG emissions in Canada and there are only 3 million of them.

While the predominant interest has shifted to converting conventionally fueled cars over to electric or alternative fuels, we are missing the real opportunity to tackle the biggest source of vehicle emissions in Canada, and natural gas and renewable natural gas (RNG) have an important role, especially when it comes to trucks and fleets of municipal vehicles, in providing a reliable and cost effective transportation emissions reduction solutions.

Canadians are already benefiting from natural gas vehicles in terms of cost savings and emission reductions.

For instance, BC Ferries and the Société des traversiers du Québec  are using natural gas powered ferries and cargo ships to move goods and people, while many waste collection vehicles in urban centres, such as Toronto, and bus fleets, such as in Calgary, run on natural gas.  The result, reduced operating costs and significant GHG emission reductions.  

Fleet operators of vehicles operating on natural gas consistently point to the following:

  • Verifiable cost savings. With payback of any up-front vehicle, fueling and fuel switching costs within five years.  Some fleet operators, such as BC Transit, get additional savings due to lower operational and maintenance costs that result from not requiring diesel emission reduction systems. [1]

  • Lower GHG emissions than petroleum based fuels.  Most trucks in Canada run on diesel which results in a total 44 MTs of emissions each year. [2] With the use of natural gas powered fleets, GHG emissions are reduced anywhere from 10 to 25 percent.  

  • Access to deployable and scalable technology. There are no immediate commercial large scale electric options for truck fleet operators. That is why companies like UPS are using natural gas as their preferred option to establish low-emission national fleets to meet their GHG objectives.

 

A Municipal Advantage

Nearly all municipal vehicles – from light duty trucks to snowplows to street cleaners to transit busses – can run on natural gas and provide cost savings and GHG reductions.  Although these vehicles can be more expensive than conventional diesel or gasoline equivalent trucks –  anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000 per vehicle – these costs are offset by operating and fuel savings

Currently, a municipal fleet of 20 vehicles running on natural gas can reduce GHGs by 100 tonnes per year, while a transit fleet of 400 busses could generate 5,000 tonnes of GHG reductions.    This is a significant opportunity for municipalities to find GHG reductions in their own fleets and to lead by example.

There are also opportunities to build on the experience with contract waste collection services.  Given natural gas has proven cost effective in this sector, municipalities can consider including either requirements for natural gas vehicles, or the performance ranking of emissions reductions in future procurement processes for waste collection vehicles.

A similar principled approach can be extended to other types of contracting, including delivery services, as well as heavy construction and maintenance contracts.  While outsourcing has provided a multitude of benefits to municipalities, procurement activities are an ideal opportunity to ensure limited municipal budgets can be directed at reducing GHG emissions through their fleets.

Municipalities that own or are a major investor in an electric and other type of utility (such as a water and wastewater) can benefit from the use of natural gas vehicles, such as for maintenance and service vehicles.  The natural gas utility industry has significant experience using natural gas vehicles for a variety of maintenance and support applications.  

Getting Deeper GHG Reductions through Local Sources for RNG

Municipalities anywhere in Canada have access to a sustainable, local and renewable source of natural gas for municipal fleets.   Renewable natural gas (RNG) is natural gas that is produced from organic waste from farms, forests, landfills, and water treatment plants, and is an ideal source for fueling municipal fleets.  RNG is captured, cleaned, and injected into pipelines to be used in the same way as natural gas by homes, businesses, institutions, industry, and transportation fleets.  Canada has an RNG resource base of approximately 1,210 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per year, which is nearly 50 per cent of Canada’s 2014 natural gas consumption.  What RNG can do for municipal fleets operating on natural gas is significantly increase net GHG emissions reductions.  In California, natural gas busses operating on RNG have been emissions certified as equivalent to battery powered electric busses, and major fleet operators such as UPS are switching their natural gas vehicles to run on RNG.

For most fleet operators, it makes the most sense to start with converting to natural gas vehicles to benefit from the immediate cost savings and GHG reductions, and then move to incorporate RNG. This approach is already happening in Canada, with municipalities such as Surrey BC, Woodstock ON, and Toronto ON taking this two step conversion approach for large fleets  These municipalities had fleet vehicles, typically waste collection vehicles that were purchased as natural gas vehicles, and undertook to convert local waste handling facilities, which were updated to take organic waste, to manufacture RNG for use in existing natural gas vehicles. The upside, not only are local fuel sources harnessed and fleet vehicle emissions lowered, fugitive emissions from organic decomposition are being captured.

Now is a great time for municipalities to plan for and to transition their fleets to lower GHG emission sources, such as natural gas and RNG, to meet and, possibly, exceed local GHG corporate and community targets, and contribute to meeting Canada's climate change objectives.  The Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance is available to help to connect municipalities to local operators and service providers to begin taking advantage of the natural gas opportunity today.

Learn more about the Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance by clicking, here.

References
[1]
According to a presentation a BC Tech conference, the transit agency is saving between $10 and $12 thousand dollars per CNG bus each year.
[2]
Based on data found in Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report 2014

 
 

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